The Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly has passed a bill to scrap NEET (National Eligibility cum Entrance Test) medical entrance examination in the state. The Bill was tabled by Chief Minister MK Stalin who said that admissions to "medical education courses are traceable to entry 25 of List III, Schedule VII of the Constitution” and therefore, his government has the authority to move the legislation.
While all political parties supported the bill, the Bharatiya Janata Party staged a walkout.
The BJP said NEET improved the standard of medical education. BJP leader Nainar Nagenthiran said NEET had its benefits like increased pass percentage.
What is the Bill about?
The Bill provisions for admission to undergraduate courses in medicine, dentistry, Indian medicine and homeopathy based on Class 12 marks. The Bill also provides a 7.5 percent horizontal reservation for students from government schools.
If the bill gets the President's assent, Tamil Nadu students will be able to join medical colleges on the basis of their marks in Class 12 board exams.
What was the need for the Bill?
According to the Bill, “NEET festers inequality as it favours the rich and more privileged class of society who are able to afford special coaching, apart from pursuing Class XII."
The Bill comes following a report on the aspects and impact of NEET by a state-appointed high-level committee, led by Madras High Court Judge (retired) AK Rajan.
The report concluded that “NEET undermines diverse societal representation in MBBS and higher medical education, favouring affluent groups while thwarting the dreams of underprivileged sections.”
It added that NEET is "not an equitable method of admission" and that the exam "has shattered the hopes and dreams of Tamil Nadu students", "particularly, students from the socially and economically backward classes".
Another state-appointed committee, headed by Chief Secretary V Irai Anbu, also recommended scrapping NEET.
The bill is being projected as a means to ensure "social justice, uphold equality and equal opportunity, protect all vulnerable student communities from being discriminated".
It aims "to bring vulnerable student communities to the mainstream of medical and dental education and in turn ensure a robust public health care across the state, particularly the rural areas".
What triggered the Bill
In recent years, more than a dozen cases of suicides by NEET aspirants have surfaced in Tamil Nadu. On Sunday, 19-year-old Dhanush killed himself hours before he was to appear for NEET, fearing the outcome of the test. He had already appeared for the NEET twice.
The suicide triggered a blame game in Tamil Nadu with AIADMK holding the DMK government responsible and the state government pointing fingers at the Centre. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also targeted the Centre for being "blind to students' distress".
In 2013, the Medical Council of India notified NEET, a single entrance examination for admission to MBBS and postgraduate medical courses. Based on NEET scores, a student could apply for admission to any medical college in the country. The first NEET exam was conducted in 2012. However, several states, including Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu had opposed NEET saying it infringed on their rights as education is a state subject.
Later, the Supreme Court put a stay on the exam in response to petitions against the exam. But NEET made a comeback in 2016 when the exam was conducted twice. In 2017, the Centre made NEET mandatory for admission to medical colleges. When the then Tamil Nadu government passed an ordinance allowing an exemption for medical students from appearing in the NEET, the top court directed it to stick to NEET while adding that there could be no “compromise on intellect”.
NEET was conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) initially but in 2019, the National Testing Agency (NTA) was given the responsibility of conducting the entrance exam.