New Delhi: The Tamil Nadu Assembly passed the Tamil Nadu Admission to Undergraduate Medical Degree Courses Bill Monday, seeking to permanently exempt Tamil Nadu students from appearing for the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for admissions to the undergraduate (UG) medical degree courses.
According to reports, the bill states that admissions to UG courses in medicine, dentistry, Indian medicine, and homoeopathy would be made on the basis of marks obtained in the qualifying examination (Plus Two/class XII), by the process of normalising the marks obtained by students belonging to different Boards.
However, according to the Constitutional scheme, since education is a part of the Concurrent list and there is a central law on medical education, the Tamil Nadu law would require a Presidential nod for it to be enforced. And even if approved by the President, the Parliament holds the power to amend or repeal it.
What the laws state
The Tamil Nadu bill draws inspiration from the report of the Justice A.K. Ranjan committee constituted by the state in June this year. The committee had been formed to study the socio-economic impact of NEET.
The statement of objects and reasons of the bill claims that the “findings [of the Committee] indicate that the NEET has only enabled and empowered comparatively the low-performing (in NEET scores and HSc scores) students to get admission to MBBS. Therefore, the question of NEET ensuring quality and merit of the students is to be ruled out”.
It adds that the committee’s finding has “reported that NEET has clearly undermined the diverse social representation in MBBS and higher medical studies, favouring mainly the affordable and affluent segment of society while equally thwarting the dream of pursuing medical education by the underprivileged social groups”.
According to the bill, those most affected by NEET are students of Tamil medium government school with a rural background, those having parental income less than Rs 2.5 lakh per annum, and the socially depressed and disadvantaged groups such as most backward classes, SCs, STs.
Tamil Nadu BJP’s state secretary Karu Nagarajan had filed a PIL in the Madras High Court opposing the constitution of the committee. The Centre too had opposed its formation, asserting that the constitution of the committee was beyond the jurisdiction of the state. However, the PIL was dismissed by the court in July.
Citing the committee’s recommendations, Section 6 of the bill, therefore, now reserves 7.5 per cent seats for students from government schools, subject to other quota rules.
The NEET had initially been introduced through notifications issued by the Medical Council of India and the Dental Council of India, in 2010 and 2012 respectively. While these notifications were quashed by the Supreme Court in 2013, the SC recalled its 2013 judgment in 2016. The court had then cleared the decks for holding NEET in two phases for the academic year 2016-17.
Meanwhile, these notifications were incorporated as statutory provisions under the Indian Medical Council Act 1956 and the Dentists Act 1948.
Then, in April last year, the apex court had held that there is no fundamental rights violation in prescribing NEET for admissions to graduate and postgraduate programmes in medical and dental courses across aided and unaided minority professional institutes.
Currently, medical education is statutorily regulated by a central law — the National Medical Commission Act 2019 — which repealed and replaced the Indian Medical Council Act, 1956.
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What the Constitution states
The 7th schedule of the Constitution contains three lists: Union list, State list, and the Concurrent list.
According to Article 246, the central government has exclusive powers to make laws on the subjects in the Union list, while the state government can make laws on subjects in the State list.
As for the Concurrent list, both central and state governments can enact laws listed under it. According to Article 254, if there is a conflict between the laws, the central law will override the state law. However, Article 254(2) provides a way out for the states in such a situation. It says that if there’s a central law and a state law on the same concurrent list subject, and they have conflicting provisions, then the State law would have to be approved by the President, for it to prevail in that state.
But there’s another catch. This provision also says that even after the President’s approval, the central government can still pass another law on the same subject and pass any law to amend, repeal or invalidate the State law.
Who can make laws on education
Education is a part of the Concurrent list. But it wasn’t always the case. Originally, education was a State subject. But during the Emergency imposed by then Prime Minister Indira Gandhi (between 1975 and 1977), education was shifted to the Concurrent list through the 42nd Constitutional amendment.
Entry 25 of list 3 (Concurrent list) of the seventh schedule of the Constitution reads, “Education, including technical education, medical education and universities, subject to the provisions of entries 63, 64, 65 and 66 of List I; vocational and technical training of labour”.
In fact, while introducing the bill, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister M.K. Stalin referred to this Entry. However, since it falls in the Concurrent list, under the provisions of Article 254(2) the bill would require Presidential approval for it to become law.
However, there’s another entry that plays a role here. Entry 66 of List I (Union list) which includes “Coordination and determination of standards in institutions for higher education or research and scientific and technical institutions”.
The National Medical Commission Act is traceable to this entry, which was cited by the Centre while challenging the constitution of the A.K. Ranjan committee as well. Additionally, the Supreme Court also held that Entry 66 of List I would prevail over the subjects covered by Entry 25 of List III. Therefore, this entry could be cited by the Centre to assert that states in fact do not have the power at all to make such a law excluding themselves from NEET, since NEET can be traced back to the Union list and not the concurrent list.
Back in 2017 as well, the AIADMK government had made a similar attempt to exclude the state from NEET, sending two bills — the Tamil Nadu Admission to MBBS and BDS Courses Bill, 2017 and the Tamil Nadu Admission to Postgraduate Courses in Medicine and Dentistry — for Presidential nod. But the Madras high court was reportedly informed in 2019 that the President had rejected these bills.
This report has been updated to add information about Entry 66 of List I.
(Edited by Poulomi Banerjee)
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