The odds are against TN, but it is time to ask whether the test has met its objectives
The Bill passed by the Tamil Nadu Assembly to exempt aspirants for its undergraduate medical courses from the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) is no magic wand that will dramatically alter the status quo. There seems to be no tangible basis for the hope and optimism behind its intent to deliver its rural and urban poor from what it perceives to be an inequitable admission system that favours the rich and the elite. It hopes to receive Presidential assent, even though similar Bills passed by the erstwhile AIADMK regime had been denied the favour in 2017. Such assent is required as the proposed State law is in conflict with the parliamentary legislation regulating medical admissions. The key element the DMK has brought to the table now to fulfil its electoral promise of abolishing NEET is a report by the Justice (retd.) A.K. Rajan Committee on the adverse impact of NEET on students and health-care delivery in the State. The committee’s view that NEET would adversely affect the rural and urban poor, and consequently, the State’s future manpower availability to run its network of primary health centres, has many takers, as well as some truth behind it. The moot question, however, is whether the mere inclusion of these elements from the report in the Bill’s preamble and its Statement of Objects and Reasons is sufficient incentive for the Centre to grant the exemption that Tamil Nadu wants.
NEET has become crystallised as the only means of gaining admission to medical institutions, including private colleges, after the Supreme Court’s categorical view that such a test alone could help maintain standards. It will be quite difficult for the Union government to grant relief to one State alone in the face of this strong and inflexible judicial opinion. However, what is possible is for the rest of the country not to dismiss the anti-NEET narrative in Tamil Nadu as a product of Tamil exclusivism; rather, there is a case to examine it dispassionately. The State has invested heavily in medical education infrastructure and aimed to afford easy access to all sections: this has so far preserved the efficiency of its health-care system. The time may also have come to examine whether NEET has met its purposes of improving standards and curbing commercialisation 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 consider 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 commercialisation.