Education Ministry order: Govt set to modify webinar checks as scientists object

Days after two science academies, representing over 1,500 top scientists and academics, expressed concern at a recent order mandating prior approval for holding online seminars and conferences, the government on Sunday said it will “modify” the order “soon”.

Principal Scientific Advisor K VijayRaghavan and Science and Technology Secretary Ashutosh Sharma told The Indian Express that the matter was under active consideration of the government.

“This has been taken note of a couple of weeks ago. There is no intent to curb academic and research interactions at all. Modifications that both clarify and make enabling changes will be coming out very soon,” VijayRaghavan said.

The order, issued by the Education Ministry on January 15, asked all government entities, including publicly funded educational institutions and universities, to “seek approval” of the respective “administrative Secretary” for organising any “online/virtual international conferences/seminar/training etc”.

While granting permissions to hold such events, the approving authorities were required to ensure that the subject matter of the event did not relate to the “security of the State, border, northeast states, UT (union territory) of J&K, or any other issues which are clearly/purely related to India’s internal matters”, the order said.

The academic and scientific community had raised serious objections to the order, saying it would make it difficult to conduct any open discussion on science.

In a letter to Education Minister Ramesh Pokhriyal and others, Partha Majumder, president of the Indian Academy of Sciences, had said that the order was “too constraining” for the advancement of science in the country.


Gag on discussing ‘internal matters’

The government had asked publicly funded educational institutions and universities to “seek approval” before organising online international conferences related to India’s “internal matters”. The president of the Indian Academy of Sciences had protested that the order was “too constraining”.

“The Academy strongly believes that security of our nation needs to be protected. However, imposing a blanket requirement for obtaining prior permission to organise virtual scientific meetings or training programmes ‘which are clearly/purely related to India’s internal matters’ – without defining what is meant by ‘India’s internal matters’ – is too constraining for the progress of science in India,” Majumder, one of India’s most distinguished bio-statisticians and the founding director of Kalyani-based National Institute of Biomedical Genomics, had written in his letter.

Chandrima Shaha, a biologist at the Delhi-based National Institute of Immunology who is president of the Indian National Science Academy, had told The Indian Express that her academy was in complete agreement with the views expressed by Majumder.

Science and Technology Secretary Ashutosh Sharma said the order was being “reconsidered”.

“Some reconsideration is happening. Obviously, the idea was not to curtail scientific discussions. But the science academies have expressed their opinion, and the government would certainly like to allay their concerns,” he said.

“I don’t know what the final outcome will be, but I think we can expect some form of modification or clarification. The matter is actively being considered,” he said.

Majumder said he was happy to know that the government was giving a serious thought to the issue.

“It is certainly reassuring to know this. We hope that the order is rectified soon, and we look forward to hearing from the government,” he said.

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