Years after the introduction of the National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET) — a national level entrance exam administered by the National Testing Agency (NTA) for medical admissions — the age around it refuses to die down in Tamil Nadu. Unlike other states, Tamil Nadu managed to secure an exemption for one year in 2016. However, since 2017, NEET has been the only way for medical aspirants in the state to have a shot at their dream. With the Assembly elections around the corner in Tamil Nadu, NEET is one of the major issues that the political parties contesting the 2021 Assembly elections have brought to the fore.
In 2020, the AIADMK government filed a petition in the Supreme Court, seeking to abolish NEET and submitted data to show how it adversely affects students from rural areas of the state. The case is pending in the Supreme Court. Against this backdrop, major political parties such as the DMK and the AIADMK have announced a few poll promises around NEET.
DMK: In its 2021 election manifesto, the DMK has announced to pass a bill against NEET in the first Legislative Assembly session of the new government once it comes to power. The aim, the party added, is to abolish NEET and make Class 12 marks the basic criteria for students to get admissions for MBBS and BDS courses in Tamil Nadu.
AIADMK: While the DMK has assured that it will pass a law to abolish NEET, the AIADMK has assured that if it comes to power, it will set up a high-quality coaching centre in every district to train students who aspire to clear NEET, Institutes of Technology-Joint Entrance Examination (IIT-JEE) and other similar entrance exams.
BJP: The Bharatiya Janata Party, in its vision document for the upcoming elections, has said that a coaching centre will be established in every district in Tamil Nadu to train students to face exams like NEET, JEE and Common Law Admission Test (CLAT). Further, the party has said that if it comes to power in the state, the state syllabus will be changed to align with the syllabus of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE).
Congress: Meanwhile, the Congress, which is an ally of the DMK, has assured to abolish NEET. It has also promised that the reservation for students from government schools in medical colleges will be increased to 10% from the current 7.5%.
MNM: Makkal Needhi Maiam (MNM) has promised to abolish NEET if elected, and to bring in State Eligibility and Entrance Test (SEET), which will be conducted based on the state syllabus and accordingly select eligible students to study in the medical colleges in Tamil Nadu. The party has also promised to do away with the 7.5% reservation provided to government school students in medical admissions, since a state syllabus exam will only be conducted.
The issue of NEET in Tamil Nadu gained momentum after Anitha, an MBBS aspirant, took her own life as she could not score enough in the NEET entrance exam to warrant admission in a medical college. A topper in class 12, Anitha was a student from the Scheduled Caste category and had high dreams for her future. She even went to the Supreme Court to secure an exemption from NEET in 2017. However, the apex court ruled against her and made NEET the sole criteria for admitting students to medical colleges in the state, in line with the rest of the country.
Anitha’s death and the discourse around how NEET predominantly requires extra coaching and thus is not affordable to students who are not privileged enough has steered the conversation on the need for an entrance exam and its social justice element in Tamil Nadu. Critics also pointed out that after the advent of NEET in Tamil Nadu, the number of students from government schools who end up securing admissions in medical colleges in the state has decreased over the years. Adding that imposing NEET as a basic criterion for MBBS and BDS degrees is against the principles of social justice, critics have been constantly demanding a rollback of the test.