From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :
Prelims level : Not much
Mains level : Issues with the NEET
The Tamil Nadu Assembly has passed a bill exempting the State from the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for admission to undergraduate (UG) medical courses.
The NEET has replaced the formerly All India Pre-Medical Test (AIPMT).
It is an all-India pre-medical entrance test for students who wish to pursue undergraduate medical (MBBS), dental (BDS) and AYUSH (BAMS, BUMS, BHMS, etc.) courses.
The exam is conducted by National Testing Agency (NTA).
TN law: Permanent Exemption for NEET
- The Bill exempts medical aspirants in Tamil Nadu from taking NEET examination for admission to UG degree courses in Indian medicine, dentistry and homeopathy.
- Instead, it seeks to provide admission to such courses on the basis of marks obtained in the qualifying examination, through “Normalization methods”.
- The aim of the Bill is to ensure “social justice, uphold equality and equal opportunity, protect all vulnerable student communities from being discriminated”.
- It seeks 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”.
Why TN is against NEET?
- Non-representative: TN opposes because NEET undermined the diverse societal representation in MBBS and higher medical studies.
- Disfavors the poor: It has favored mainly the affordable and affluent sections of the society and thwarting the dreams of underprivileged social groups.
- Exams for the elite: It considers NEET not a fair or equitable method of admission since it favored the rich and elite sections of society.
- Healthcare concerns: If continued, the rural and urban poor may not be able to pursue medical courses.
Can any state legislate against NEET?
- Admissions to medical courses are traceable to entry 25 of List III (Concurrent List), Schedule VII of the Constitution.
- Therefore, the State can also enact a law regarding admission and amend any Central law on admission procedures.
Views of the stakeholders appointed by TN
- A majority of stakeholders were not in favor of the NEET requirement.
- NEET only worked against underprivileged government school students, and had profited coaching centres and affluent students.
- NEET had not provided any special mechanism for testing the knowledge and aptitude of the students.
- The higher secondary examination of the State board itself was an ample basis for the selection of students for MBBS seats.
A move inspired by a SC Judgement
- This thinking of the State may be due to the observation made by the Supreme Court in the selection process of postgraduate (PG) courses in medicine.
- The Medical Council of India (MCI) had prescribed certain regulations providing reservations for in-service candidates.
- The Supreme Court struck down regulation 9(c) made by the MCI on the ground of the exercise of power beyond its statute.
Not a similar case
- It must be remembered that the Supreme Court was only dealing with a regulation framed by the MCI.
- The requirement of NEET being a basic requirement for PG and UG medical courses has now been statutorily incorporated under Section 10D of the Indian Medical Council (IMC) Act.
- When the Tamil Nadu government issued an order in 2017 providing for the reservation of 85% of the seats for students passed out from the State board it was struck down by the Madras High Court.
- The introduction of internal reservation for government school students is under challenge before the Madras High Court. Similarly, NEET as a requirement is also pending in the Supreme Court.
- Unless these two issues are decided, NEET cannot be removed by a State amendment.
The bill cannot be passed
- The present move to pass a fresh Bill on the same lines is most likely to meet the same fate.
- The President refused to give his assent to this bill.
- It is significant that no other State in India has sought an exemption from NEET and, therefore, exempting Tamil Nadu alone may not be possible.
- Even among the seats allotted to the State, there is no bar for students from other States from competing or selecting colleges in Tamil Nadu.
The bigger question
- The question is not whether the State government can amend a law falling under the Concurrent List.
- The question is whether the State government can exempt Section 10D of the IMC Act, which is a parliamentary law that falls under the Central List (Entry 66).
- Moreover, the Supreme Court has also upheld NEET as a requirement.
- Mere statistics highlighting that a majority of the stakeholders do not want NEET in Tamil Nadu is not an answer for exempting the examination.
Again, it is State and Centre are at crossroads
- Normally, a Bill requires assent from the Governor to become a law. Stalin’s contention is that this Bill deals with education, which is a Concurrent List subject.
- Admissions to medical courses fall under Entry 25 of List III, Schedule VII of the Constitution, and therefore the state is competent to regulate the same.
- Yet, as far as matters relating to the determination of standards for higher education are concerned, the central government has the power to amend a clause or repeal an Act.
- So, just the passing of the Bill doesn’t enable the students to get exempted from writing NEET.
- Already, Union Higher Education Secretary Amit Khare has held that if any State wants to opt out of the exam, it has to seek permission from the Supreme Court.
Options for Tamil Nadu
- Data is necessary only when there is power to legislate on the subject concerned.
- Since the Bill, which will become an Act only after the President’s nod, will come into effect only from the next academic year, the battle for and against the NEET requirement will continue in courts.
- Hopefully, the courts will determine the legality and have a definite solution to the question of medical admissions within the next year.
- Till such time, students who wrote NEET will fill the seats under the State quota.
Way forward: Preventing Commercialization of Medical Education
- The time may also have come to examine whether NEET has met its purposes of improving standards and curbing commercialization and profiteering.
- Under current norms, one quite low on the merit rank can still buy a medical seat in a private college, while those ranked higher but only good enough to get a government quota seat in a private institution can be priced out of the system.
- The Centre should do something other than considering an exemption to Tamil Nadu.
- It has to conceive a better system that will allow a fair admission process while preserving inter se merit and preventing rampant commercialization.