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New Delhi: The Tamil Nadu assembly on Monday passed a Bill that attempts to bypass the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for medical students in the state, instead allowing admissions to be made based on marks obtained by students in Class XII or Plus Two.
All parties, except the BJP, supported the Bill. Since the Bill attempts to bypass a Central law, it will only come into effect with Presidential assent.
NEET has been a politically sensitive issue in the state for many years. The death by suicide of Anita, a 17-year-old girl who was from a Dalit family, in 2017 resulted in numerous protests across the state. She had scored high marks in Class XII but was unable to clear NEET.
According to news agency PTI, at least 15 NEET aspirants have died by suicide in Tamil Nadu. The latest suicide was reported on Monday night, when 17-year-old Kanimozhi from Sathampadi village in Ariyalur district ended her life. She had taken the exam on September 11, but was ‘depressed about her performance’.
This was the second incident in three days, preceded by the death by suicide of 20-year-old Salem youth Dhanush on the day of the exam, September 11. He was taking it for the third time.
On Monday, introducing the Tamil Nadu Admission to Undergraduate Medical Degree Courses Bill in the assembly, Tamil Nadu chief minister M.K. Stalin said the state is empowered to regulate medical admission according to the constitution’s 8th Schedule, List III and Entry 25. “As a result of this government’s and other parties’ legal struggle in the state, we scripted history by getting 27% reservation for OBCs in all India quotas. In the NEET issue too, MLAs of all parties should help pass the Bill unanimously to script history in social justice,” he said, according to NDTV.
The DMK government had in June constituted a high-level committee headed by retired Madras high court judge A.K. Rajan to study the impact of NEET. The committee’s report was decidedly against NEET, saying it favours the rich and elite, Stalin said.
According to PTI, the preamble of the Bill says that NEET is not a fair or equitable method of admission.
It quotes extensively from the Justice Rajan committee, adding that a detailed study concluded that if NEET continued for a few more years, the health care system of Tamil Nadu would be badly affected and there may not be enough doctors for postings in Primary Health Centres or state-run hospitals. The rural and urban poor may not be able to join medical courses, it said.
The study compared medical admissions four years before and after NEET, which showed a nearly 10-time dip in state board students securing medical admission, according to NDTV. Before NEET, 380 state board students were able to secure admissions, while afterwards, just 40 were able to do so. “But there is an exponential rise in CBSE students making it, from a mere three to over 200, almost a 70-time high. A large majority of them had taken private tuition to crack the test. A large percentage of candidates cracked NEET after preparing for two to four years,” according to NDTV.
The Bill, which was introduced in the House based on the panel’s report, recommended that “the state government may undertake immediate steps to eliminate NEET from being used in admission to medical programmes at all levels by following the required legal and or legislative procedures.”
‘Not fair or equitable’
From the report of the committee, it became apparent that “NEET is not a fair or equitable method of admission since it favours the rich and elite section of the society.” Also, the standard of medical education is in no way diluted or affected merely by dispensing with the common entrance examination, the preamble said.
The Statement of Objects and Reasons (SoOAR) said the panel in its finding has reported that NEET has undermined the diverse societal representation in MBBS and higher medical studies, favouring mainly the affordable and affluent segments while thwarting the dreams of underprivileged social groups to pursue medical education.
The analysis related to the Socio Economic and Other Demographic Status (SEODS) of those who have competed for medical education has proved this fact, it said.
In medical education, NEET has hurdled the representation of the social and other demographic groups having low SEODS. The social groups which were most affected were Tamil medium students who attend government schools in rural areas and whose parents did not earn more than Rs 2.5 lakh per annum. It has also hindered people from socially depressed and disadvantaged groups like the Most Backward Classes, the Scheduled Castes and Scheduled Tribes, the SoOAR said quoting extensively from the findings of the panel. “Therefore, the Committee concludes that the NEET is against these disadvantaged groups.”
NEET, within its purview, also does not seem to ensure the merit or standard of students who are eventually offered MBBS seats, it said. The findings indicate that NEET has only enabled and empowered comparatively low performing (in NEET score and Class XII score) students to get admission to MBBS. “Therefore, the question of NEET ensuring quality and merit of students is to be ruled out.” Comparatively, it has been observed that admissions based on Class XII marks during the pre-NEET period ensured the entry of quality and meritorious students.
Even before 2017, TN had one of the highest numbers of medical and dental educational institutions and the standard of graduating students was high. Admissions based on Class XII marks would in no way lower the standard of education since the higher secondary syllabus is of a sufficient standard, the Bill argues.
Opposing the argument that NEET improved the standard of medical education, the statement said that the standard of medical education is maintained during the UG course by following the syllabus prescribed by the National Medical Commission and students who are not able to clear the university exams are not awarded degrees. “Therefore, it is not during the admission stage that the standard of medical education is maintained.”
“It is evident from the panel’s report that NEET is not an equitable method [of] admission. The experience of the past four years of NEET has shown that the exam has shattered the hopes and dreams of TN students aspiring for admissions to medical and dental courses, particularly, the students from the socially and economically backward classes,” the statement said.
NEET has caused a huge financial burden to students from socially and economically backward classes. “It fester inequality, as it favours the rich and more privileged classes of society who are able to afford special coaching apart from pursuing Cass XII. It virtually barricades the underprivileged social groups from medical and dental education. This is against the very object of the equality clause enshrined in the Constitution and it also infringes the right to education of children from these underprivileged class of society.”
Students from affluent sections, after completing a UG course, do not serve in rural areas and they often pursue PG courses abroad. “Thus the number of serving doctors in the state is declining,” the statement said.
After considering the recommendations of the committee, the government said to ensure social justice, it has decided that the admission to UG courses in medicine, dentistry, Indian medicine and homeopathy in Tamil Nadu shall be made only based on the marks obtained in the higher secondary examination, Class XII or Plus Two.
If you know someone – friend or family member – at risk of suicide, please reach out to them. The Suicide Prevention India Foundation maintains a list of telephone numbers (www.spif.in/seek-help/) they can call to speak in confidence. You could also refer them to the nearest hospital.
(With PTI inputs)