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“Was Doing Well Even Without NEET”: DMK, BJP Clash Over Medical Entrance

“As long as we don’t have a uniform system of education for all students, it’s unfair to have single common entrance test,” said DMK MP Dr Kalanidhi Veeraswamy. 

Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly, in a series of important legislations passed in the last few days, approved a Bill seeking to ‘dispense’ with the requirement for candidates to qualify in the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for admission to undergraduate medical courses in the State. (Though two similar legislation were passed during the earlier AIADMK regime, they did not receive the Presidential assent.)

Eliminating the process of the NEET, the Tamil Nadu Admission to Undergraduate Medical Degree Courses Bill, 2021 seeks to provide admission to these courses on the basis of the marks obtained in the qualifying examination [Class XII marks in Tamil Nadu] through “normalisation methods”, as was done before 2017.

“Today, I have presented the resolution against NEET. You (AIADMK) also brought this resolution. I urge opposition parties to extend their support to this resolution,” news agency ANI quoted CM Stalin, as saying.

The AIADMK, the principal Opposition party in TN assembly, extended its support to the government in passing the Bill. The BJP members, however, staged a walkout.

What does the bill say? 

Moved by Chief Minister and DMK chief MK Stalin, the Bill contended that admission to medical courses was traceable to entry 25 of List III, Schedule VII of the Constitution, and the State was “competent to regulate” the same for the underprivileged social groups.

The Bill cleared by the TN assembly argues: “It [NEET] festers inequality as it favours the rich and the more privileged class of society, who are able to afford special coaching apart from pursuing Class XII. It virtually barricades the underprivileged social groups from medical and dental education.” The bill also stressed that the NEET was against the equality clause enshrined in the Constitution.

It said that after the UG course, students from the affluent class do not serve in rural areas, and often pursue postgraduate courses abroad. It added that the number of serving doctors in the State was declining, teeming the argument that NEET improved the standard of medical education as ‘spurious’.

“The standard of medical education is maintained during the UG course by following the syllabus and curriculum prescribed by the National Medical Commission and through exams conducted by the university before awarding the degree. Students who are not able to pass the university exams are not awarded degrees. Therefore, it is not during the admission stage that the standard of medical education is maintained,” the Bill said.

Students appearing for NEET. (Shutterstock)

The aim was to ensure social justice, uphold equality and equal opportunity, protect all vulnerable student communities from discrimination and bring them into the mainstream of medical and dental education and, in turn, ensure robust public healthcare across Tamil Nadu, particularly in the rural areas, the Bill noted.

Report behind the Bill 

A report from a high-level committee, headed by the retired High Court judge, Justice A.K. Rajan, said NEET had “clearly undermined” the diverse societal representation in MBBS and higher medical studies, favouring mainly the affluent segment of society, while thwarting the dream of the underprivileged social groups to pursue medical education. This report led to the government’s decision of completely scrapping the NEET examination.

If NEET continued for a few more years, the report said, the healthcare system of Tamil Nadu would be “very badly affected, and there may not be enough doctors” to be posted at Primary Health Centres or government hospitals, and the rural and urban poor may not be able to join the medical courses. The high-level committee was in favour of immediate steps to eliminate NEET from being used in admission to medical programmes “at all levels”.

Justice AK Rajan headed the committee which concluded that the NEET eliminated poor students.

The committee also contended that NEET was not a fair or equitable method of admission, since it ‘favoured’ the rich and elite sections of society. The most affected groups were the students of Tamil medium; students having a rural background; those from government schools; those whose parental income was less than ₹2.5 lakh per annum; and socially disadvantaged groups like the Most Backward Classes (MBCs), the Scheduled Castes (SCs) and the Scheduled Tribes (STs).

The DMK-led state government, based on this report, decided that admission to undergraduate courses in medicine, dentistry, Indian medicine and homoeopathy in the State shall be made only based on the marks obtained in the qualifying examination (Plus-Two).

Student suicide stirs the debate

A day after a NEET aspirant’s death by suicide was reported from the southern state, the government introduced the bill to do away with the entrance examination. The 20-year-old student, Dhanush, was set to appear for the NEET exam Sunday but died on the eve of the exam.

The passing of the student created a stir across the state and resonated in the Tamil Nadu Assembly, along with the discussion of the NEET exemption bill. The AIADMK-led opposition targeted the government, holding it responsible for the death of the student. Chief Minister Stalin, in response, introduced the NEET exemption bill.

“TN was doing very well without NEET”

Dr Kalanidhi Veeraswamy, a member of parliament and the joint secretary of the DMK’s medical team, talked to HW news and explained the position of his party. He also spoke about the students’ suicide in the southern state, the existing inequality in NEET preparations, and the union government’s jurisdiction in educational matters.

Dr Kalanidhi Veeraswamy (left) is a DMK MP and a medical doctor (a plastic surgeon) by profession.

“Tamil Nadu is one of the pioneering states in medical education. We had been doing very well without NEET. We probably have the highest number of medical colleges for the under graduate, post graduate and super speciality. Several doctors have studied in the colleges without NEET, and as you are well aware, Tamil Nadu is the leading state in medical tourism. So we feel that it is not essential at all,” Dr Veeraswamy said.

When questioned whether the suicide of the NEET-preparing student was responsible for the DMK bringing in the Bill, the MP from Chennai North said: “The bill was well-prepared and ready to be passed in the assembly before the incident happened. But we have lost around 14 students before that. So we don’t feel it’s (NEET) essential at all, because we don’t have a uniform system of education in the country. As long as we don’t have a uniform system of education for all students, it’s unfair to have single common entrance test.

Responding on how the medical admissions will take place after doing away with the NEET, the DMK leader said: “NEET has been there for only four years. How do you think the admissions were happening for decades before that? We already have a system in place with the state and central boards. They have the formula for the allocation of marks. We are proposing to have the same system.”

Elaborating on the part from the Bill that highlights the inequality of resources for students from different stratas of the society, the parliamentarian, who himself is a medical doctor (a plastic surgeon) by profession, said: “See, to become a doctor, you don’t have to be super-intelligent or super-brilliant like an IITian. Medicine is more about hardwork and dedication to do medical practice. Its about the efforts that are put in. So we think when Tamil Nadu has been doing well in the field of medicine without such entrance exam, what is the need for NEET, which is only a way of depriving socio-economically weaker students from joining and prospering?”

Talking about the confrontation with the union government over the entrance examination, Dr Veeraswamy said: “Several states have earlier opposed the NEET. Tamil Nadu has population around 7 crores, which is the population of some of the countries in the European union. So technically, we are talking about a region which is almost like a country, where people are saying that we do not want this highly discriminatory NEET. In a federal structure, I think, the state government should be given education in its own hands. Because the union government unjustly included it in the concurrent list as it absolutely has no business to do with education.”

BJP opposes the Bill

BJP Mahila Morcha President Vanathi Srinivasan said the reservation for medical admissions cannot be against social justice because the number of seats allotted to a particular community is being filled appropriately.

Remarking that BJP is for NEET, Vanathi Srinivasan said that the party supports NEET and insisted that one syllabus should be followed for all students.

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