Contending that “NEET [National Eligibility cum Entrance Test] was not an equitable method of admission” and that “it is not during the admission stage that the standard of medical education is maintained,” the Tamil Nadu Assembly on September 13 passed a Bill demanding that medical admissions through a national entrance test be scrapped.
All political parties represented in the Assembly, barring the Bharatiya Janata Party, voted in favour of the Bill. Major allies of the BJP, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK), and the Pattali Makkal Katchi (PMK), welcomed the Bill. When it was in power, the AIADMK had passed such a Bill but the President declined assent. The implementation of the present Bill, too, depends on the President giving his assent.
A NEET score is needed for any student desirous of perusing medicine and related courses in India. Ever since NEET was made compulsory, coaching centres have mushroomed all over the country, charging huge sums, to prepare students for the examination. This has led to students from the disadvantaged communities losing out on studying medicine and related courses.
The Bill and Reasons
The Bill, the ‘Tamil Nadu Admission to Undergraduate Medical Degree Courses Act 2021,’ also says that “with a view to ensure social justice,” admission to an undergraduate course in medicine, dentistry, Indian medicine and Homoeopathy “shall be made only based on the marks obtained in the qualifying examination, namely, the Higher Secondary Examination (Plus Two).”
About a month after the DMK government assumed office in May 2021, it set up a High Level Committee under former judge A.K. Rajan, to study the impact of NEET on socially and educationally backward classes. The Committee submitted its report in just over a month, after a legal tangle over locus standi of the State government. The Madras High Court resolved the case, preferred by a BJP office-bearer, in the State government’s favour.
The Bill notes that the Rajan Committee “concluded that if NEET continues for a few more years, the health care system of Tamil Nadu will be very badly affected and there may not be enough doctors for being posted at Primary Health Centres or Government hospitals and that rural and urban poor may not be able to join the medical courses.” The High Level Committee recommended that the State government needed to undertake “immediate steps” to eliminate NEET. The committee hence recommended that the government pass an Act similar to the “Tamil Nadu Admission in Professional Educational Institutions Act, 2006.” A Group of Secretaries, chaired by the State Chief Secretary, which considered the recommendations of the Committee, advised that the Government move a Bill.
NEET will not improve quality
Chief Minister M.K. Stalin, who moved the Bill seeking permanent exemption for Tamil Nadu from NEET and to admit students to undergraduate courses, said: “Competitive examinations cannot decide the standard of education. It is wrong to contend that NEET examination will improve quality…. In Tamil Nadu, the birth place of social justice, NEET denies equity and has resulted in the death of students.” The Bill was passed by voice vote.
Just before the introduction of the Bill, the AIADMK demanded a discussion on the September 12 death by suicide of 20-year-old NEET aspirant from Salem. Since this was denied, the party staged a walkout but clarified that it will support the NEET Bill moved by the DMK government. “Cancelling the NEET examination was one of the main promises of the DMK government. Stalin had stated that this will be one of the first tasks of the DMK government. But though they have come to power, NEET still remains,” said former Chief Minister and AIADMK leader Edappadi K. Palaniswami.
Responding to the criticism, Stalin told the Assembly that the NEET aspirant had already attempted NEET twice earlier – when Palaniswami was Chief Minister. The AIADMK government, while supporting the Citizenship Amendment Act and the farms laws, could have asked for a return favour on NEET exemption for Tamil Nadu. Instead, the AIADMK government hid from the people of Tamil Nadu the fact that the President had rejected the 2017 NEET Bill passed unanimously by the Assembly. “But we are taking the steps required to abolish NEET and admit students on the basis of Class 12 marks,” he said.
Reacting to the moving of the Bill, the Tamil Nadu CPI (M) leader K. Balakrishnan tweeted: “The NEET exemption Bill… is an expression of the unanimous voice of the people of Tamil Nadu. At least now, the Modi government should alter its inhuman course. The NEET exemption Bill must be approved without delay.”