In a major setback to the anti-NEET movement and Justice for Anitha campaign, the Supreme Court on Friday said that bandhs and protests against NEET that disrupt normal life in Tamil Nadu cannot be held and directed state officials to arrest anyone who violates its order. It has however clarified that any peaceful protest will be allowed.
Following the suicide of medical aspirant Anitha from Ariyalur in Tamil Nadu, a high-performing Dalit student who approached the apex court asking that NEET-based medical admissions not be allowed in the state, the NEET protests in Tamil Nadu have snowballed into a social movement. Several political parties, activists and student groups have been protesting in different parts of Tamil Nadu asking that the state board exam results be used as the parameter for medical college admissions.
On Friday, the apex court issued a notice to Tamil Nadu’s Chief Secretary, Principal Secretary, Home Secretary, directing them to ensure no agitation against NEET take place in the state. The top court observed that it is the obligation of the state government to maintain law and order in the state.
"The Chief Secretary shall see to it that anyone involved in any kind of 'bandh' or activity that disrupts the normal life and detrimentally affects law and order in the state of Tamil Nadu shall be booked under the appropriate law," reads the Supreme Court order.
The Bench comprising of Justice AM Khanwilkar and Justice Chandrachud, however, observed, "We may clearly state here that a peaceful protest or criticism or dissent is different than creation of a law and orders situation. Every citizen of this country has a fundamental right to peacefully protest and demonstrate, but not to cause a situation that results in violence and paralyzes the law and order situation."
The court was hearing a petition filed by Supreme Court advocate GS Mani, who sought a judicial probe into Anitha’s death.
The plea also added that it wanted the TN govt to maintain law and order. It also wanted to ensure the protests following Anitha's death shouldn't disrupt normal life.
The Supreme Court had on August 22 directed the Tamil Nadu government to begin medical admissions based on NEET scores. This was after the Centre refused to endorse the state government's draft ordinance seeking one-year exemption from NEET.
It was following the order that Anitha, a Dalit student from Ariyalur, committed suicide last Friday after failing to secure a medical seat. Her suicide triggered protests across the state, with political parties and student groups blaming the Centre and the state government for her death.
The Tamil Nadu government has in the past opposed NEET on the grounds that the all-India medical entrance exam was disadvantegeous to rural students and those from poorer backgrounds, who did not have the resources to go for coaching classes. The TN government had also opposed NEET arguing that it went against the 69% reservation that the state has implemented in all professional courses.
Others who oppose NEET argue that since Tamil Nadu had a surfeit of engineering colleges and seats and it did not require writing any entrance exam, Tamil Nadu students simply stopped preparing for entrance exams. They rarely appeared for the entrance exams meant for institutions of importance such as IIT, NIT, IIIT, IISER, Central Universities etc. and were content with joining medical and engineering colleges in Tamil Nadu.
In this backdrop, when NEET was introduced, the students were simply not ready to deal with an entrance exam, it is argued, stating that the Tamil Nadu state board students are at a considerable disadvantage in handling NEET or similar entrance examination.
Note: The headline and story have been edited to reflect the order of the SC accurately.