New Delhi: Tamil Nadu’s tabling of a bill in the state assembly Monday seeking exemption from the National Entrance-cum-Eligibility Test (NEET) has brought back into focus the state’s continued opposition to the exam meant for admission to medical colleges. It is, however, not the first state to oppose the examination on grounds that it will disrupt state-specific admission processes.
A decade ago, several states including Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Andhra Pradesh had opposed NEET when the then UPA government had brought in the test to replace the All India Pre-Medical Entrance Test for all central and state colleges.
NEET came into effect in 2010 with the Medical Council of India issued a notification on 21 December, amending the regulations for medical admissions, making NEET a single eligibility-cum-entrance examination across India for MBBS and BDS courses. It also gave powers to the Centre to lower the minimum mark of 50 per cent for seats reserved on the basis of caste.
In 2011, when Narendra Modi was the chief minister of Gujarat, the state had been at the forefront of states opposing NEET. In its first objection that year, the then health minister Jay Narayan Vyas said Gujarat would not accept NEET: “We have decided we will not accept NEET. We have informed this to the union government,” he had said.
Vyas claimed the decision was taken after a three-member committee was formed to look into the impact of NEET on medical students and it was found “not in the interest” of the state’s students.
Parents in Gujarat had raised specific concerns. The first was regarding class 12 performance on the basis of which the Gujarat government had till then given admission to science students in medical colleges. With the introduction of NEET, students would have to prepare for one more exam, they said.
Another concern flagged was the change in the semester system — and the way the syllabus was taught — implemented by the state government in 2012. Parents argued that adjusting to the new system and preparing for an additional exam would be an extra burden on students.
NEET, however, was brought into effect by a Supreme Court order in 2016 — by then the Narendra Modi-led BJP government was in power at the centre.
Opposition by other states
Between 2013-2016, the issues for and against NEET were put forward by the states in the Supreme Court. Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Uttar Pradesh, erstwhile Jammu and Kashmir, and several other private institutions were strongly opposed to it.
During a hearing in the Supreme Court in 2016, the legal counsel of Andhra Pradesh argued that the state was protected under a presidential order issued under Article 371D of the Indian Constitution. This order allows the state to take its own decisions regarding employment and education — but the apex court overrode the decision.
While private medical institutions in Karnataka claimed that they had already spent money in conducting exams for the state’s students, the Uttar Pradesh government made a similar argument. The then Maharashtra education minister Vinod Tawde, too, had issued a statement asking to “stop compulsory implementation of NEET for the year 2016.”
Tamil Nadu objected to the exam saying there was no culture of entrance exams in the state since 2007.
Language was also a major concern raised by the states — the exam was originally to be conducted only in Hindi and English. Another argument made by them was regarding the difference in the curriculum of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and state boards.
In February 2013, about 80 petitions were filed in several courts across the country which were transferred to the Supreme Court. The petitions were filed by several states including Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, and Karnataka. In July of the same year, the apex court struck down the implementation of NEET stating that it infringed upon the state’s right to education.
However in May 2013, before the SC judgment was passed, NEET was conducted for the first time across centres in 85 cities of the country.
The exam was not conducted in the years 2014 and 2015 as the Medical Council of India had put forth a review petition challenging the verdict in 0ctober 2013. The final hearing of the case was held in 2016 before a five-judge bench that eventually passed the petition for a single common entrance test for medical colleges.
However several states had asked for an exemption from taking part in the exam in 2016 on grounds of lack of preparation.
In 2016, the exam was conducted in two phases. The first phase of the exam was scheduled for 1 May and the second on July 24. Nearly 6.5 lakh students appeared in the first phase of NEET held on May 1.
In the past five years, NEET registrations have risen by 42 per cent with factors like additional medical seats having played a major role, linked to the Covid-19 pandemic, besides a dip in demand for engineering courses, say experts.
(Edited by Paramita Ghosh)