The issue of National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) has been stretching endlessly and needlessly in Tamil Nadu for a long time, thanks to the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) and its coterie of minions in the media.
The DMK with its misplaced sense of ‘social justice’ has ensured the debate is devoid of academic rigour from the beginning. Such politicisation of an academic matter has never been witnessed in any state other than Tamil Nadu. While the DMK has been making a huge hue and cry over the BJP asking for a just inquiry into the suicide of a 17-year-old girl allegedly due to forced conversion, it was the DMK which played ugly vulture politics back in 2017 over the unfortunate suicide of a poor girl.
Since then, the DMK and its allies through its propaganda machinery have been successful in creating rhetoric around NEET that has put students under pressure and left parents confused. The issue has blown up beyond control, ever since the DMK came to power, in May 2021.
Some Plain Facts
Prior to NEET, medical admissions happened across the country through the All India Pre-Medical Test. Since, Tamil Nadu banned entrance exams to professional courses in 2006, it had admitted students to state-run colleges through Class 12 marks.
Now, nobody can deny that NEET was first initiated by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government which the DMK was a part of; it had cornered key portfolios including Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare. The Medical Council of India (MCI) falls under the health ministry.
The MCI had said it would introduce the NEET-UG exam from 2012 onwards. States like Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Gujarat and West Bengal opposed the move citing huge differences in the syllabus proposed by MCI and their respective state syllabus.
The test was deferred by a year for the states to prepare themselves and was held for the first time on May 5, 2013. However, the Supreme Court cancelled NEET in July 2013 and announced the MCI could not interfere with the admission process of the colleges. In 2016, the Supreme Court overruled its earlier judgement, mandating a common entrance examination for all medical colleges in India.
Ours is a country governed by the rule of law mandated by the constitutional scheme of things. Laws are implemented by the executive through enactments of legislature or by pronouncement of courts. As per the orders of the Supreme Court, Parliament passed the Indian Medical Council (Amendment) Bill, 2016, and the Dentists (Amendment) Bill, 2016 paving way for a single common exam for medical and dental courses.
In fact, it was former Union Finance Minister P. Chidambaram’s wife Nalini Chidambaram who in her personal capacity as an advocate fought for upholding NEET in the Supreme Court.
Another startling revelation that came to light recently is that the Gazette Notification for NEET was first put out by the Medical Council of India (which comes under the Health Ministry) in 2010. Mr Gandhiselvan of the DMK was then Union Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare in the UPA government. The notification said, “There shall be a single eligibility cum entrance examination namely National Eligibility cum Entrance Test for admissions to MBBS course in each academic year.”
What this essentially means is that NEET is the brainchild of the UPA government. Both the DMK and Congress were instrumental in bringing NEET for medical admissions. Today, the Congress and the DMK have become a laughing stock and are making a fool of themselves by opposing a law which they had rolled out.
DMK, Another Synonym For Disgrace
Despite the DMK’s active role in introducing NEET, it changed its stance soon after the Narendra Modi government came to power.
The party had promised to get rid of NEET altogether if it came to power in the Assembly election in April 2021. In the run up to the elections, then Leader of Opposition and now Chief Minister had campaigned across Tamil Nadu saying that his first signature as chief minister would be to cancel NEET. His son Udhayanidhi Stalin who is now an MLA said that only they knew the secret and trick to scrap NEET.
Eight months have passed, and they still have not cancelled NEET. With one promise after another, like reduction of fuel prices, waiver of jewel loans, etc., going down the gutter, the DMK has been trying hard to at least fulfil this poll promise.
As soon as the DMK came to power, a committee headed by Justice A.K. Rajan was constituted to study the impact of the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) on medical college admissions in the state. The committee which submitted its report to Chief Minister M.K. Stalin on September 14 made a case for doing away with NEET, claiming that it puts students from rural Tamil-medium government schools at a disadvantage. However, the report which has been rightly pointed out by Tamil Nadu Governor as ‘utterly unconvincing’ was prepared to buttress the DMK government’s position over NEET.
The report is laden with empty rhetoric and makes unsubstantiated inferences through selective usage and wilful omission of data. The report made a sweeping statement that 99 per cent of those who cleared the exam took coaching. When asked where the committee got this data from, the former judge mentioned that it was given by the government. However, an RTI with the school education department revealed that they had no such data.
A crucial data point which the A.K. Rajan Committee Report doesn’t share is the number of government school students who have been admitted to government medical colleges in the last 15 years. That is because it will expose the DMK’s lies and claims.
From 2008 to 2016, only 252 government school students made it to government medical colleges. The best year for government schools was the first year of abolishment of entrance exams in 2007 when 62 students were admitted. The worst year was 2013 when just 18 students made the cut.
The reason why a high number of state board students found it difficult to crack NEET was because of the substandard ‘Samacheer Kalvi’ syllabus dumbing them down. But that problem was rectified when the previous AIADMK government revised and raised the standards of the textbooks on par with NCERT textbooks.
Today, hundreds of government school students are securing admissions in government medical colleges, thanks to the 7.5 per cent internal quota introduced by the Edappadi K. Palaniswami government. It is worth mentioning that the idea was first mooted by current BJP president J.P. Nadda who was then Union Minister of Health.
In short, the A.K. Rajan Committee and the report submitted by it were nothing but a sham. The committee had already fixed the outcome of the study and worked backwards to make a case for doing away with NEET in order to suit the narrative of the DMK. What should have been an objective study ended up as a document dictated by the DMK.
Real Reason Behind DMK’s Blind Opposition To NEET
Before NEET, 15 per cent seats in a private medical college in Tamil Nadu were allocated to the All India Quota (AIQ). Of the remaining 85 per cent, 42.5 per cent were allocated to candidates based on merit and the remaining 42.5 per cent was treated as management quota. The students under the third quota had to take up a test conducted by the college, which was nothing but an eye-wash.
For a college that had 150 seats on offer, at least 63 seats were filled based on capitation fees, which could be as high as Rs 1 crore.
After the Supreme Court upheld NEET, 15 per cent seats continue to be allocated through AIQ but the remaining 85 per cent is filled based on NEET ranking and as per the 69 per cent reservation formula. Therefore, all the private medical colleges that were making a profit have been facing losses since NEET.
It is important to point out that of the 50 medical colleges in Tamil Nadu, 24 are private and 14 of these came up when the DMK was in power. These colleges are mostly run by politicians or their benamis belonging to or affiliated with one or the other Dravidian parties. The filling of seats through management quota for which one had to pay lakhs and sometimes crores of rupees has received a death blow, thanks to NEET. These politicians masquerading as ‘educationists’ who sucked money out of ordinary people in the name of ‘capitation fee’ are no longer able to do so. It is because of this that the DMK and other Dravidian parties are against NEET.
If You Cancel NEET, Then What?
As we all know, the 12th Board examinations can only be written once, and the scores derived from it are final. So in case, a medical aspirant scores less in the 12th Board exam, his/her chance of making it to a medical college becomes solely dependent on money. If the student hails from an economically weaker section, his/her chances of pursuing medicine become nil. On the other hand, the NEET exams can be given thrice. Therefore, medical aspirants at large have a better chance at bagging a medical seat.
Now, a portion of medical seats in government medical/dental colleges are reserved for students domiciled in the respective states. The remaining seats, 15 per cent for undergraduates and 50 per cent for postgraduates, are surrendered to the All India Quota. This helps students from anywhere in India to compete and get a chance to study in top medical colleges, even if they don’t belong to the particular state. A Tamil Nadu student has a chance to study in a government college in Kerala or Maharashtra or Delhi or West Bengal.
Now consider this, a student belonging to Tamil Nadu aspiring to study in AIIMS Delhi or PGI Chandigarh or any other college in the country has to give NEET anyway. If the student’s score is not high enough to make it to these top colleges, he/she can still hope to secure a seat in a government medical college in Kerala through AIQ. If the student wants to study in Tamil Nadu, he/she can use the NEET score and secure admission in a government/private medical college of their choice.
The DMK has no answers to the question that what will happen next if NEET is banned in Tamil Nadu.
No Other State is Opposing NEET
Back in October 2021, Tamil Nadu CM M.K. Stalin wrote to chief ministers of 12 other states, asking them to support him in banning the NEET examinations. He had asked for their support in demanding that education be brought under the State List, instead of the Concurrent List as mandated under the Constitution.
His letter was addressed to all the states primarily ruled by Opposition parties, including Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Goa, Jharkhand, Kerala, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Telangana and West Bengal.
However, four months on, not one leader has shown support or has even given a response to Stalin’s letter. No other state, apart from Tamil Nadu, is opposing NEET, because they all know that NEET is for the benefit of the students.
CM Stalin Must Accept Defeat and Apologise
As BJP Tamil Nadu president K. Annamalai has been mentioning repeatedly, the DMK has been making a needless issue out of NEET because their leaders running colleges are at a loss as they cannot mint money the through management quota.
Also, it is impossible for the Tamil Nadu government to unilaterally do away with NEET. It cannot be done. Only a law passed by Parliament can scrap NEET which even the states ruled by their allies in Kerala, Rajasthan and Chhattisgarh will never accept.
The Tamil Nadu Governor, while returning Tamil Nadu’s anti-NEET bill, mentioned that the Supreme Court has already comprehensively examined the issue, especially from the social justice perspective, and upheld NEET as it prevents economic exploitation of poor students and promotes social justice in the Christian Medical College Vellore Association Vs Union of India (2020).
Thanks to NEET, students from the most disadvantaged sections of society are coming out with flying colours. Government school children from rural areas are securing admissions in government colleges. The dreams of children from Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe communities, a lorry driver’s daughter, a farm labourer’s daughter and many more like them are being realised, thanks to NEET.
Dear CM Stalin, accept defeat over NEET and move on to fulfil other things you’ve promised the people of Tamil Nadu. Please stop your useless politics over this and do not put the future of Tamil Nadu’s children in jeopardy.
The author is Spokesperson, BJP Tamil Nadu. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not represent the stand of this publication.