Education

Medical Council’s NEET: Unfair, Unjust, Arbitrary

The real impact of NEET, which has been unconstitutionally pushed down the throat of medical education, is that it is anti-poor, anti-minority, anti-federal and anti-constitution.

Supreme Court of India

Supreme Court of India

Given the huge diversity of India and its federal system, the Constitution was interpreted to allow states to conduct exams for their government seats. Various universities and colleges conducted their own tests. Similarly, minority institutions were constitutionally protected and held their own tests.

Of course, problems existed. There were some conflicts on the admission of students between the universities and their colleges. The government coveted more seats for Scheduled Caste (SC), Scheduled Tribe (ST) and Other Backward Class (OBC) from private institutions in addition to its own. There were powerful indictments that private institutions were charging huge fees under the table. The Supreme Court successfully resolved these problems in its decision of 2002 but the Medical Council of India (MCI) wants to subvert this decision with its National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) all-India admission tests.

The story

The story is a little complicated and goes to the heart of higher education in India. From 1951, the Supreme Court has been dealing with issues related to education and reservations. In the case of Unnikrishan (1993), the Supreme Court made a huge attempt to virtually nationalise the distribution of college seats to favour the disadvantaged. This failed miserably because the better off got the subsidised seats and institutions complained of huge budgetary problems. Eventually, this led to the famous decision in T.M.A. Pai’s case (2002), decided by 11 judges. The point of the T.M.A. Pai judgment was (a) to accept that college and university education could not be provided by the government alone but by a powerful combination of the public and private sectors; (b) to prevent government interference by saying that unaided private colleges would have autonomy in matters of (i) admission of students (ii) governing bodies (iii) staff (subject to fairness and compliance with welfare statutes) and (iv) fees and finance subject to reasonableness.

Even majority religious educational institutions had this autonomy subject to reservations, if aided. This formula was confirmed in a 7-judge case Inamdar (2005) which while respecting the right of private colleges to admit students of their choice with transparency, fairness and non-exploitation of fees under autonomous oversight, suggested that the colleges in each state get together to devise a single association test. So, there were to be two tests in each state: government and association. Some states wanted all tests to be conducted by the government. At one end, Tamil Nadu selected students based on class 12 exams whether in English or Tamil. Andhra Pradesh had a constitutional amendment on distribution of seats. Most states had their own tests to suit their specific needs. The association tests (and fees) were overseen by special committees. Some famous and impeccably honest colleges (like Manipal) conducted their own exams. Some devised tests to ensure that medical candidates would serve the rural areas, like Christian Medical College, Vellore. MG College in Wardha added tests on Gandhian ethics. Against all this, Madhya Pradesh enacted legislation in 2007 to take away total control of all tests and fee fixation from private institutions, giving it to the state. MP has the worst track record. Its examining agency (Vyapam) was not just corrupt but generated an embarrassing scam – a nightmare that should have alerted the nation to the foolishness of entrusting the state with a monopoly over admissions and fee fixation.

NEET struck-down (2014) and resurrected (2016)

All educational regulatory agencies are riddled with corruption (for example the AICTE, MCI, to a lesser extent UGC). The MCI has a powerful dispensation to grant permission to start colleges, decide whether they can continue their quota of students, determine whether these institutions can expand their activities and hear complaints. The MCI was so corrupt that in 2011, the council was replaced by a board of dovernors. When this ‘takeover’ ended, the MCI was up to its own corrupt ways which continue till date. Parliament’s report of 2015 showed how MCI is deep into ineptitude and corruption, and wants to abolish it.

How was the MCI to redeem itself? The truth was that it could not be redeemed, but the MCI felt that it must flex its regulatory muscles by suggesting a National Educational Eligibility Test (NEET). The supposed purpose was that a single test was good for students irrespective of their backgrounds even if it favoured the well-off.

In the Christian Vellore case (2014), NEET was up for a constitutional challenge. There was no doubt that the MCI had the power to coordinate standards which perforce, including giving instructions and guidelines on admission tests. But, even if this was possible, what stood in the way of NEET was the mighty 11-judge bench in the T.M.A. Pai (2002) case, endorsed by 7-judge bench in Inamdar (2005), that had ruled that unaided and minority institutions are entitled to their own selection; not to mention the St. Stephen’s decision (1991) that affirmed that even an aided minority institution could do further selection of students in terms of the aims of the institution. The T.M.A. Pai formula for unaided and minority institutions was autonomy in matters of admissions. Faced with this precedent, the court decided against NEET (Chief Justice Kabir and Justice Vikramjit Sen, with Justice Anil Dave dissenting). There was much rancour even to a point of making accusations of corruption, not to mention that Kabir and Sen were minority judges and Dave a staunch majority judge.

The MCI worked out a plan to support the dissenting view of Justice Dave. The MCI, with support from the union, resurrected NEET – a single all-India test excluding all others despite the fact that Christian Medical College, Vellore (CMC) (2012) struck down NEET. The dissenting judge (Anil Dave) wanted an all-India test even if the law was to the contrary. Since Kabir and later Sen retired, the path was clear for Dave to get the CMC decision reviewed. It went to a Constitution bench presided over by Justice Dave. It was unsuccessfully argued that Justice Dave recuse himself, as also Justice Goel who had wholly read down T.M.A. Pai. Goel also had litigational connections with BJP politicians. Several eminent lawyers argued that there was no basis for review. On April 11, 2016, the Constitution bench made a curious decision that the review of CMC was to be heard. Without hearing the case on merits, the CMC decision was ‘revoked’. When I pointed out in the April 28 order, ‘revoked’ meant recalled to hear, the Court didn’t budge but feigned that CMC was overruled, when the overruling was not even heard. How on earth can a decision be set aside without a hearing.? But Justice Dave was adamant and the other judges agreed. What was to follow was even more absurd. The NEET All-India exam was fixed with a weekends notice on May 1 for over six lakh students. So what if the NEET syllabus was published in December 2015. At that time, NEET was unconstitutional. Now students were expected to be prepared in three days. It was also suggested that all other exams of states and private minority institutions that were in process or scheduled had to be scrapped. If the legislature or executive had done what the Justice Dave presided 3-judge bench had done, it would have been stayed and struck down. Had any high court behaved in this way, the Supreme Court would have struck down that high court decision like a ton of bricks. What made the decision even more farcical was that a few days earlier in the MP case, the Justice Dave-led bench allowed the MCI Council to argue the state’s case (which it had no business to argue) and even suggested that the arguments in that case (where even a judgment was then not delivered) would suffice for the CMC review as well!

Enter the attorney general

The court proceeded to hear the matter through three judges (Dave, Shiv Kirti Singh and Goel JJ). Soli Sarabji, Sibal, P.P. Rao and I with others protested that the matter had to be heard by a five-judge bench because the supposed overruling had been done by five judges. But the three judges were adamant to hear the matter.

Suddenly, the attorney general appeared to save the state exams. The rumour (confirmed by several Tamil Nadu counsel) was that Chief Minister Jayalalithaa was furious. There was a behind-the-scene threat that her party would disrupt parliament. Tamil Nadu recruits from class 12 in Tamil and English. Andhra Pradesh and Telangana protested that they were protected by Article 371D of the Constitution. Christian College Vellore and Mahatma Gandhi colleges had their own exams. Justice Dave said he wanted Gandhian principles to be made compulsory in admission tests but NEET would stay. I reminded him in court that he had said that if he was Hitler he would impose the Bhagwad Geeta on all schools. I have often wondered why Jesus’s sermon on the mount was not chosen.

Perhaps fearful of rebellion from the states, at one stage the three-judge bench had almost acceded to the request of the states to follow their own criteria and tests. In hearings, the longest time was given to Gujarat and Andhra Pradesh. The private institutions also had their own superior exams (take Manipal, the best of the best where years ago Ramdas Pai had not lowered marks to admit his son). Private institutions were given short shrift. But the victory of the states was short lived. Suddenly, the judges did a volte face and decided against the state exams as well. The solicitor general tried to convince the court to allow the states their exams. I protested that if latitude is given to the states it must also be given to minority and other institutions which had constitutional rights in their favour. The reply: “We will hear you if that happens.”

The far reaching result

The Central government is being two-faced. At one level, it supports the MCI to nationalise admission tests. At another level, it is under threat from its own coalition partners not to proceed with this draconian policy. NEET goes to the heart of linguistic federalism. Tamil Nadu and other states argue that their 10+2 allows poor Tamil students to be achievers. Many boards throughout the country are not the same as ISC or CBSE, on which NEET tests are based. CBSE devises these tests. True, they will do an MBBS in English, but we are at pre-admission eligibility. An English medium student has an advantage over a vernacular student. The structure of NEET is such. It was conducted only in English and reluctantly in Hindi.

But there is one more consequence. From the famous Kerala opinion (1958), through so many five and nine judge decisions, both linguistic and religious minority institutions were protected. T.M.A. Pai (2002) finally closed all controversy that these minority institutions were free to devise their own tests. It was a great decision drawing on the spirit of India’s multicultural and multi-religious genius. Look what it says.

“The one billion population of India consists of six main ethnic groups and fifty-two major tribes; six major religions and 6,400 castes and sub-castes; eighteen major languages and 1,600 minor languages and dialects. The essence of secularism in India can best be depicted if a relief map of India is made in mosaic, where the aforesaid one billion people are the small pieces of marble that go into the making of a map. Each person, whatever his/her language, caste, religion has his/her individual identity, which has to be preserved, so that when pieced together it goes to form a depiction with the different geographical features of India(to) produce the beautiful map of India… The variations of the colours as well as different shades of the same colour in a map are the result of these small pieces of different shades and colours of marble, but even when one small piece of marble is removed, the whole map of India would be scarred, and the beauty would be lost.”

The NEET decision augurs disaster. It is clearly arbitrary because the CMC decision (2014) overruling NEET has still not been overruled.

The real impact of NEET, which has been unconstitutionally pushed down the throat of medical education, is that it is anti-poor, anti-minority, anti-federal and anti-constitution. Each state should pass legislation to reverse this decision and seek presidential assent to overcome the Supreme Court decision. Let us see what the Modi government will do. Sit on the fence while the Supreme Court bats for it, probably.

Never has the Supreme Court pressed the agenda of a dissenting judge so forcefully and on such shaky foundations.

Rajeev Dhavan in a senior advocate at the Supreme Court.

  • Radhakrishnan N Nrk

    Your report is biased , for example, Vellore CMC allots seats to candidates who are recommended by churches and christian missionaries. While these colleges get additional seats by bargaining with the government that doctors in proportion to population in the state was very less. This means that the college must allot seats to all those candidates in the state irrespective of they are christian or belonging to other religion. The CET proposed will bring more seats to the poor and middleclass as private colleges and deemed universities will no longer allot seats on their own by getting huge donation. A wrong article in the the wire – the advocate must be condemned for writing this article

  • method man

    Hello

    Thank you for that summary of the issues surrounding NEET. As someone who’s grudgingly in favour of the test, here’s what I think would’ve been a better solution. i’d be interested to know whether this would fit in with regulatory trends.

    The NEET should probably stay. Or something like it, to function as a minimum bar, and a single uniform bar across the country. Marks on examinations are subject to adjustments that don’t really work very well, given that the scoring systems are completely different in different parts of the country. The states would probably be better placed to conduct examinations, but that there’s no reasonable entity at the state level that could be co-opted to conduct the test.

    I also think NEET scores should feature in the entrance process. But colleges should be allowed to specify guidelines for any additional requirements, including second tests. These tests should not be conducted by the college, but by some other entity, because colleges ought not to hold that power because of the power imbalance and conflict of interest involved. IMO, those additional tests should be independently accredited and regulated to ensure that tehy’re appropriate and not prone to distortion. Possibly MCI could lay down broad parameters even as to curriculum/guidelines.

    While I agree entirely with Mr. Dhavan when he says that colleges should have the freedom to select candidates who best suit their requirements, it seems to me that his arguments do not match up with the real situation in medical education in this country. Blame whom you will, the fact remains that private colleges determining their selection process isn’t working except for a few exceptions. The medical education marketplace (for want of a better world) gives all power to the seller, and there seems to be little motivation amongst colleges to perform. That has to change, and might, if they had to compete to attract students at the entry level. Being able to admit whom you please undercuts that.

    Again, that KMC and CMC are affected in this is unfortunate, and unfair to them, when they’ve tried to self-regulate so successfully. But the remedy for that cannot be one that privileges only these institutions or creates a special category for them. So winning the fight against NEET would be a disaster for the larger ecosystem. I hope some other solution can be found, that preserves the individuality of these institutions, though I really can’t think of anything that would be truly equitable.

    • Dup Luck

      You echoed my sentiments. We need to walk a tight rope: freedom for educational institutions versus good of the people overall.

      Why doesn’t the govt increase the number of seats? We need more doctors. There are lot of meritorious students who are going to waste because they couldn’t afford MBBS education. It would be a good investment to increase the seats (and even collect money from successful graduates once they start earning).

      • Drvincent jimmy n

        my suggestion in my post as per your statement

    • seira

      And for us students who’ve gotten a second chance , it’s a blessing in disguise. How can the government take it away from us?? They’re just not seeing our side.

    • Drvincent jimmy n

      Agree
      modification is better than actually erasing existing facilities
      well said sir

  • Radhakrishnan N Nrk

    I filed a writ in Chennai High Court to make the private colleges to surrender PG medical seats for government counseling as per government order in Tamilnadu. CMC vellore for long had been opposing surrender of PG medical seats and is following the matter through court. Court has not taken the issue for hearing though the writ was filed about a month ago. As students are joining the course from May 1 onwards, the delay taking up the case will be favorable to colleges selling the seats to private candidates. The wire must not allow article by such vested interests on this sensitive issue

  • Lalitha chintapalli

    too late to cancel emcet entrance test. Supreme court could have stopped Emcet notification stage itself.

  • K SHESHU BABU

    NEET is a ‘ neat’ way of suppressing the ambitions of poor, lower castes, minority religious and underprivileged students at one stroke of ‘ common’ exam!

  • Kabilan Thangavel

    The very existence of a central government and a supreme judicial body is being questioned as it clearly seems that both are not acting for the welfare of the very own people they sworn to protect. Haven’t they really considered that India is a country with unity in diversity. Does every individual state has to change their complete education system and syllabus based on this decision taken by some bunch of literate idiots sitting in some remote place and not analyzing the ground scenario in each state. Abandon your regional language, identity, dreams etc and be someone else is what they are trying to impose on us. Clearly it is not everyone can afford if this decision stays on.

    • Drvincent jimmy n

      Have submitted a remedial solution

  • Jalal

    While there are few private institutes like CMC, St Johns, KMC with transparent admission processes most of the private institutes have a farcical/corrupt admission process.
    Mr.Rajeev – what solution would you suggest to control the corrupt institutes producing law quality doctors?

    • Drvincent jimmy n

      suggested remedy in my post today submitted

    • ro1

      Cmc and St. John admit more Christian students then their quota , Manipal recently stopped capitation and openly takes huge fees

  • Drvincent jimmy n

    Firstly NEET is innately a good idea but wrongly timed and the inordinate hurry in which this ? honourable judge is trying to enforce it smacks of corruption in judiciary or in the least an undue Hitlerism and is against the principle of natural justice.
    Secondly
    if the main idea behind NEET judgement is to reign in the pvt med colleges then why is the judge not passing an order to appoint a central committee with members of the judiciary executive and the eminent academicians to regulate fees and admission process in these pvt med colleges?
    after all like one writer pointed out India needs to improve her Doctor to patient ratio esp in rural settings so allow pvt med colleges under control of said committee and regulate intake and fees also add the rider that these well off students are made to serve rural settings like PHC for 5 years to get the degree of MBBS validated by DNB exit exams along with the PG exams.
    thirdly
    why are we insisting on English only curriculum in med colleges when 80 percent of patients understand only vernacular languages?
    convert medical text books into major vernacular languages say in 4 years and hold NEET in these languages too by 2020 allowing all students to not only migrate to CBSE standardsin the meantime hold NEET 2016 phase 2 in major languages and apply this score as eligibility to appear in state and a controlled minority and pvt med college exams this time
    in other words keep NEET 2 of 2016 as a phase 1 qualifying exam only to apply on all other private and state exams
    1. keep quality of intake of students in check
    2. use private med colleges to augument govt intake since govt intake is far from ideal yet
    3. PHC s get staff for 5 years
    4. keep up our national pride – encourage diversity in languages and our culture also help a rural patient understand what the Doctor has written in their prescription!

    After all in the land of Sushruta and Charaka the Queens language should only be out of necessity in dealing with international medical communities and not for the rural India – a noble thought don’t u think? for a NOBLE profession.

  • sameer

    Can the author of this article answer one question- how is NEET going to affect the state rank of students who appeared in it? If all of students of a particular state find NEET tough then all are going to perform badly but assigning rank in exam is based on your performance relative to others so state rank won’t be affected. Moreover, students from other states can’t compete for seats of students home state. The above arguments prove that NEET is not going to affect students of states not following CBSE syllabus. The author terms supreme court decision as anti-poor, I want to ask him how can poor students appear for 200 or 300 medical entrance exams that were taking place in country before NEET judgment. I ask why poor people can’t get quality education at government school?Isn’t it a momentous failure of successive governments that poor people have access to only government schools where standards are deplorable Author is an eminent lawyer, he can influence public opinion with his writing skills but would he spare time to answer these questions

    • Vijay Aruldas

      I have a response to that. (A) like other exams, NEET will have a national cut off. States with poorer educational standards as examined by NEET will have less students qualifying (B) Statesllike Tamil Nadu have not had entrance exams for years. Now NEET requires students to learn how to answer MCQs ..which requires different skills from answering short and long answers. That too, in different language and different syllabus. They will obviously do worse than other state students (C). All Tamil Nadu students do not follow the same syllabus. There are those who follow cbse or icse syllabus. These have already decided to apply for all of India tests, and are prepared. The Tamil Nadu board, including government school students, will be further disadvantaged.

      Yes, NEET is anti poor, and against the states that have lesser educational achievements.

  • Ahamed Jalal

    My
    sincere gratitude to Mr. Rajeev Dhavan an eminent
    senior advocate at the Supreme Court contested the case in favour of Private Medical
    Colleges Association. His arguments deserves the applause. But it is
    unfortunate not been heared properly due
    to hurried manner of closing the case. It was your bold views in this article,
    sir and I totally endorse your views. It is total injustice to push the NEET in
    the back drop despite the resistance from majority of various corners. The court decision passed on NEET
    definitely kept majority of deserved students in dark and they are shuttled. I
    simply wondered why the Medical education has taken on edge and everyone wanted
    set right the so call wrong doings. I am rather worried lot that our system of
    education and its disparity within one India. When we talk seriously about one
    segment of education why the law makers are refused to look in to the schooling
    education where the parents are need to pay capitation around two lacs for LKG
    admission. When we look around the happening of Engineering education it is
    worst state of affair without any control and mechanism. I surprise to note
    that why the law makers never worried on the quality of Engineering education
    and like the Medical education the production of unqualified Engineers are also
    very much related to lives of common people. We all know that the rate of
    accidents and incidents on buildings and infra projects. The best example is
    the recent Kolkatta Over Bridge collapse which caused loss of human lives a lot.
    It is well known fact as regards to Medical admission the target is Private and
    deemed Universities and Minority Institution on political grounds at large. It is
    ashamed to state that our country like India was conducting AIPMT exams for six
    lacs people for the meager quantity of seats. I believe rather the seats can be
    surrendered to respective state quotas. It is right time to arise the stock
    holders to open many medical colleges rather than pulling out the serving and deserving
    people for Medical Education.

  • selvam

    Delhi having CBSE school and having several coaching centre in and around
    the delhi. They will secure more MBBS seats in all over India. Hence Delhi
    chief minister recommend NEET.

    Instead running the school, after 10th standard, close the school, then as
    per the NEET syllabus, ask the coaching center of Aaakash Institute, Allen
    Carrier Institute, TIIM, Brilliant Tutorials, Pace Coaching Classes and etc. to
    produce the student for MBBS competition.

    Poor people and state board syllabus student may affect my NEET.

  • ro1

    U r a lawyer so u r saying this that NEET is disaster. And u conveniently passed on ur clean chit saying 2002 judgement solved problem of colleges taking money under the table. Sir Jammu Kashmir PG / EAMCET PG exam / Vyapam Scam … Do they sound fairness at play ? And let UG slide past. PG exams require a person to hold MBBS which all colleges have same syllabus and books r in English ?? U can argue ur case in court but don’t rant in public and propagate falsehood. Fact is state exams are manipulated .. Have been done in past .. And Pvt colleges make a killing with exams. Not a single Pvt college in Tamil Nadu admits students based on merit except for state govt seats.