Universities and professors will now have to get prior approval from the Ministry of External Affairs to hold online international conferences that are centred around “sensitive subjects”, events relating to national security, or which are “clearly related to India’s internal matters”, the central government has announced.

Additionally, state government ministers, government officials, including doctors and scientists, will have to first seek the permission of the foreign ministry, if they wish to participate in any such online events.

While “sensitive subjects” has been vaguely defined as anything that is “political, scientific, technical, commercial and personal”, the phrase “internal matters” was left open to the government’s interpretation.

In a set of revised guidelines issued on January 15, seen by Scroll.in, the Ministry of Education said that any virtual conference organised by a government department or a publicly-funded university will require approval from their administrative secretary.

However, before granting permission, the applicable ministry will be required to ensure that the subject matter for the online event is not related to “security of State, Border, Northeast states”, the Union Territories of Jammu and Kashmir and Ladakh or “any other issues which are clearly/purely related to India’s internal matter/s”.

For conferences that involve discussions around these specific topics, approval will be required from the Ministry of External Affairs, the Centre said.

In addition, the names of all participants in virtual seminars will have to be approved in advance by the government as well, the guidelines said. However, it was not immediately clear how these new guidelines would affect international webinars that allow foreign participation by giving open access to a meeting link.

Usually, permission is required from either the Ministry of External Affairs or the Ministry of Home Affairs for international conferences and seminars that are physically organised in India, according to The Wire. This is specifically applicable to events that involve foreign participants who visit the country on a conference visa. Besides, additional scrutiny is applied to events that have participants from closely watched countries such as Afghanistan, Iran, China and Pakistan, the website reported.

The guidelines also urge universities to make a “judicious selection of IT applications”. Preference should be given to apps whose servers are not hosted or controlled by “countries or agencies that are hostile to India”, the government said.

Besides, “appropriate level of scrutiny” is to be exercised to identify the nature and “sensitivity of data” while examining the contents of the presentation to be made at the seminar, it added.