On Saturday the chief minister M K Stalin convened a meeting of all legislature parties to buttress the demand for repealing the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET), the lone voice of dissent was that of BJP legislator Vanitha Srinivasan. After walking out of the meeting, she told reporters that the government should focus on preparing school students for the test instead of opposing it. That’s some sane advice.
Here is what the DMK and the other parties that participated in Saturday’s meeting say: NEET gives an undue advantage to the economically well-off who can afford special coaching, and it denies equal opportunity to poor students, especially those in the state government schools. Disheartened students have been ending their lives. NEET should go.
Vanitha must have been duty bound to defend the Centre that her party rules, but beyond the political part of the argument (that the DMK-inclusive UPA government had initiated the entrance exam), she made sense when she spoke about equipping students for the test. To correct the BJP leader on curriculum revision (she said Tamil Nadu has not upgraded school syllabi for 12 years), the state did revise its school syllabus between 2017 and 2019 broadly on the lines of NCERT, but there is a long way to go before we can say our children have equal opportunities in school to crack entrance tests.
What could be done faster is something no politician talks about: Rationalizing MBBS fees. Some of the deemed universities charge MBBS students more than ₹25 lakh a year. This means about PRs 1.5 crore to be a medical graduate. Now, how many of us can afford that? Will the government bring in a law to implement an affordable ceiling for medical course fees in the state? It is one of the worst kept secrets that leaders of several parties, including the DMK, own medical colleges that charge exorbitant fees. And this is the height of hypocrisy of those who speak of social justice in medical education.
Here’s the real social injustice: A student from a rich family can get a seat even if she has scored 138 (the qualifying mark in the open category last year), while a student who scored four times higher will not make the cut for a seat in a government medical college (598 was the cut-off in the open category). In other words, money can get you a medical seat that marks can’t.
The Saturday meet, which “decided to explore legal options”, was at best a symbolic protest that yielded nothing. After the Supreme Court insisted that all states should follow NEET, the Tamil Nadu government was either ill-advised or posturing when it passed the Permanent Exemption Bill for NEET in Tamil Nadu in September last year. Or probably it was an exercise in face-saving after the DMK made abolition of NEET its poll promise, which it followed up with the appointment of the A K Ranjan committee that promptly submitted a report the government wanted.
Whether NEET is the best possible eligibility test for medical education is a moot question, but experts feel the Tamil Nadu NEET abolition bill may not stand legal scrutiny. While the government questions the governor’s inaction over the bill, the Constitution seems to be silent over the powers of the governor to act or choose not to act. If the anti-NEET crusade has to be successful, the only way is political action by the Centre. And that would mean revamping the medical admission process in the country because making an exemption for one state would open a Pandora’s box. Jallikattu was different. NEET is a different bull game.
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