The National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) is a direct assault on the concept of social justice enshrined in the Constitution of India. In the garb of bringing in uniformity, NEET destroys the golden concept of our Constitution of not treating unequals equally. NEET does exactly this.
The important reasons the Central Government and various other agencies are hell bent on imposing NEET is to:
1. Improve the standard of medical education,
2. To bring in uniformity in the admission process as there are several entrance exams which lack credibility and are being conducted by different universities.
3. To ensure that the capitation fee system goes.
Will NEET address all these issues? The answer is an emphatic “No”.
Several leading educationists have questioned NEET on the premise - how will a uniform entrance test be justified when there are no uniform boards of education or syllabus?
There is no empirical data or study done to compare the different boards of education and their syllabus in India and come to the conclusion that CBSE (Central Board of Secondary Education) is the best or better than State Boards. The question then is why did the Medical Council of India (MCI) choose the CBSE syllabus as the base for the entrance exam to bring in uniformity, when only a miniscule number of students study in CBSE when compared to other boards. And why did MCI ask the CBSE Board to conduct the exam when several different boards of education are there in India? These were some of the observations made by Justice Kirubakaran of the Madras High Court while disposing of a petition seeking relief against NEET.
There has been a constant campaign by the naysayers about how the State Board in Tamil Nadu does not have a quality syllabus and how it is inferior to the CBSE syllabus and that is the reason why State Board students were unable to crack NEET.
It is not about the quality of the boards but only about what they studied and did not study. If the quality of the State Board is dismal, how is it that for the last 50 years students who had studied from the State Board in Tamil Nadu had successfully studied medicine and aced their fields? Is there any data to show that students who studied under the CBSE syllabus performed better than the students of State Board in medical colleges in Tamil Nadu? Has it been found anywhere in medical colleges in Tamil Nadu that State Board students had performed poorly in their medical education? In fact, Tamil Nadu has around 24 educational institutions in the top 100 in India. When such is the factual position, this whole hullabaloo over the quality of syllabus is created by a minority to reap the benefits of medical education by stealthily removing the rural poor from the equation.
Another absurdity NEET perpetuates is that the +2 Board Exam results have become totally irrelevant, which actually tests the student on all his/her strengths and weaknesses. Whereas, NEET is only a multiple-choice format. It cannot be an effective way to test the overall strength of the student. If we conduct a survey on the students who emerged successful in the NEET exam, almost more than 95% of the students would have attended a coaching centre. If NEET is here to stay then, there will be another fall out, students will stop concentrating on their school curriculum and will only concentrate on cracking the NEET.
NEET will not solve the capitation issue too. It has made medical education unaffordable to students who even clear NEET. Private medical colleges have hiked their fee to astounding proportions, so that the capitation fee is collected as fees annually. Needless to say, there will be myriad other fees collected from students. NEET will not and cannot solve any of the issues it purported to resolve.
The CBSE Board which conducted the NEET exams this year gave different question papers to different regions. When the aim of NEET is to ensure uniformity why should there be different question papers? While this was condemned by the Supreme Court, it, however, unfortunately refused to strike down the exams.
The orders passed by the Supreme Court in NEET related issues left a bad taste. The precedents and the Constitutional principles were not adhered to by the apex court in the NEET judgment. When the DMK was in power in Tamil Nadu, it brought in the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Admission in Professional Courses Act, 2006, which abolished entrance exams for professional courses. This Act was subsequently sent to the President and received his assent too.
Article 245(2) of the Constitution of India states: “Where a law made by the Legislature of a State with respect to one of the matters enumerated in the concurrent List contains any provision repugnant to the provisions of an earlier law made by Parliament or an existing law with respect to that matter, then, the law so made by the Legislature of such State shall, if it has been reserved for the consideration of the President and has received his assent, prevail in that State: Provided that nothing in this clause shall prevent Parliament from enacting at any time any law with respect to the same matter including a law adding to, amending, varying or repealing the law so made by the Legislature of the State.”
When any state law receives the assent of the President in an occupied field, only Parliament has the power to enact a law which can repeal or nullify the state law. In the present situation, Parliament has not enacted any law making NEET compulsory, only the MCI (Medical Council of India) has made NEET compulsory. In such a situation, only the State Law i.e. the Tamil Nadu Regulation of Admission in Professional Courses Act, 2006, will prevail, which abolishes any form of entrance test. The Supreme Court committed a glaring error in not appreciating this Constitutional issue and granting an exemption to the State of Tamil Nadu from NEET.
NEET should also go because it creates an urban-rural divide and a division based on the boards which they study, as claimed by Garga Chatterjee, an eminent scholar. In India, we take pride in the diversity and plurality. Homogenisation masked as uniform standards will only wreak havoc on our social fabric, which is already under considerable strain.
(A Saravanan is a practicing advocate at the Madras High Court and a spokesperson for the DMK)