Why is Tamil Nadu Govt Against National Exam? How Did it Turn Into a ‘People’s Movement’?

The Tamil Nadu government is expecting presidential assent on anti-NEET bill that has been sent to the Centre by Governor RN Ravi, proposing that students be admitted to medical colleges based on scores from Class 12.

According to the Tamil Nadu government, the centralized exam conducted only on a single day, puts an enormous amount of pressure on the students, especially from the economically backward and rural background.

To be precise, engineering candidates have both central and state-level exams, while medical aspirants have only one entrance exam for national and state-level college admissions – NEET.

The National Entrance-cum-Eligibility Test (NEET) has been conducted by the National Testing Agency across the country for MBBS and BDS programmes in medical and dental colleges. It is mandatory to have passed the NEET exam for medical college admissions across India.

Why is Tamil Nadu Govt Opposing NEET?

Despite being an exam with over 15 lakh students taking the test almost every year, the competitive exam is not so popular in Tamil Nadu. It is not only DMK (Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam) opposing NEET but all most all the major political parties in Tamil Nadu including AIADMK (All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam), PMK, MDMK, VCK, Tamil Nadu Congress, and movements are against NEET.

On a wider view, Tamil Nadu opposes NEET claiming that there was no culture of entrance exam in the state till 2007. After the introduction of NEET, students started to opt for coaching to crack entrance exams which was injustice for students hailing from rural and economically backward.

Read | NEET PG Not Postponed, Twitter Demands ‘Justice for Doctors’

When the MK Stalin-led DMK government came into power in 2021, a panel headed by retired justice AK Rajan was set up to study the implications of the NEET exam on medical aspirants from the socially backward sections in medical admissions in Tamil Nadu. A state-wide survey has been conducted by the team and report was filed titling ‘Impact of NEET on Medical Admissions in Tamil Nadu’.

The 165-page report of the AK Rajan Committee that was submitted to the state government was released on September 20 last year by the TN government. In this context, in a series of Assembly sessions, a bill has been passed in the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly calling for the cancellation of the medical entrance exam- NEET. The AK Rajan report said the state government can immediately take legal action to cancel the NEET exam. Moreover, the report suggested that a separate law can be enacted to repeal the NEET and obtain the approval of the President of India. The enactment of the NEET Cancellation Act will ensure social justice for the vulnerable student communities in admission to medical studies.

The report also pointed that the qualifying exam will take the state back to ‘pre-independence days’ and the state government wants to eliminate it at all levels by following the required legal procedures. It also specified the enrollment of rural students in medical education has been declining since the introduction of the NEET and there will not be enough doctors in the rural hospitals if the NEET exam continues. Ultimately, the healthcare system of Tamil Nadu will be affected badly.

Following the implementation of NEET, in the last four years, there has been an average decline of 11.2 percent share of medical admission among the crucial social categories in Tamil Nadu; it was only after the 7.5 per cent reservation, students from government schools are able to join medical courses, the report said. Apparently, the Tamil Nadu government is strong in its stand saying the NEET favored the rich and elite sections of the society and not the weaker sections. Another argument made by them was regarding the difference in the curriculum of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) and State Boards.

Speaking to News18, AK Rajan earlier said, “There is a prohibition for the Central government to establish and regulate Universities. Only the state governments have the power to do that. According to the legal amendment brought in 2007, NEET can be exempted from the examination. Modern dental college decision came in 2016, in that, the Supreme Court justice bench consisting of five judges cleared that entry 66 lists and does not include an admission of students into universities. It comes only under entry 25′.

Subsequently, when the Russian-Ukraine war broke months ago, commonly the Ukraine-return Indian students shared their reasons for studying abroad such as expensive tuition fees in private colleges in India and limited alternatives. Most of the students appeared for the NEET entrance exam more than twice, but could not qualify and decided to go abroad to fulfil their dreams to become a doctor. But the dream is now far from complete due to war situation.

Apparently, the death of Karnataka native- Naveen Shekharappa, a medical student of a university in Kharkiv in Ukraine, has triggered opposition to NEET. During March this year, Kannada organizations, ran a Twitter Campaign with the hashtag ‘BanNEET’.

Following Tamil Nadu, Karnataka also voiced against NEET. Former Chief Minister and JD (S)- Kumaraswamy, in a series of tweets, opposed NEET calling it a ‘death knell’ to the dreams of poor and rural students who want to study medicine. ‘A meritorious rural student like Naveen unable to get a medical seat in the country has exposed the ‘shameless face’ of NEET. His death in Ukraine is a question to the conscience of India’ his tweet read. Meanwhile, Congress leader Siddaramaiah, condemning the BJP government in Delhi, tweeted ‘this was not the right time to debate the adverse impact of the chaos created by Narendra Modi Government’s implementation of NEET to bring uniformity’.

How did the anti-NEET turned People’s Movement?

Over the period of years, not only political parties opposing NEET, the anti-NEET wave turned into People’s Movement from the impact of Ariyalur Anitha’s suicide. On September 1, 2017, she died by suicide because of NEET that created a major controversy in the state. She was amongst the toppers in her district in Class 12. She was the only student in Ariyalur district to score 100 percent marks in Math and Physics in the 12th standard board exam.

In 2021, three NEET aspirants in Tamil Nadu died by suicide over the fear of NEET in weeks gap. This is not the first sequence of students suicide that Tamil Nadu has seen. During September 2020, five students died by suicide in the state just days before the NEET exam was to be held amid the Covid-19 crisis.

For the last few years, students, parents, teachers, and political parties in TN have been protesting to scrape the examination. The Madras High Court in 2020 also stated the NEET exam is discriminatory for poor students from the state. Soon after the declaration of the NEET 2019 result, two students committed suicide in Tamil Nadu.

Moreover, poll promise on scraping NEET from Tamil Nadu played a major role during the Parliamentary Elections in 2019 and the State Assembly Elections in 2021. Except the State BJP, all parties in Tamil Nadu has same ideology on NEET opposition, which is also Tamil Nadu’s Stand.

What is about NEET Exemption Bill?

Last year, after MK Stalin led DMK government came into power, the anti-NEET bill was first introduced in the Tamil Nadu Assembly after a 19-year-old medical aspirant from Salem died by suicide at his home during September, hours before the NEET exam.

Precisely, the NEET Exemption Bill denotes to ensure ‘social justice for the vulnerable student communities from being discriminated against admission to medical programmes’. Moreover, the diverse societal representation in MBBS and higher medical studies, favoring mainly the affordable and affluent sections of the society and thwarting the dreams of underprivileged social groups’.

The Tamil Nadu government believes ‘the only way to ensure a robust public healthcare across the state, particularly the rural areas is that students should be admitted to medical colleges based on the scores from Class 12’.

Meanwhile, AK Rajan reports also pointed that a student from rural or economic backward background will not try to appear for the NEET more than once. While a rich and elite section student will be able to appear more than twice since they are affordable. CM MK Stalin also said that the 19-year-old aspirant who died by suicide was dejected that he could not clear the exam despite appearing twice.

Seeking support for Tamil Nadu government’s fight against the NEET, Tamil Nadu CM Stalin wrote to his counterparts in 12 States during October last year, calling for united efforts to restore the primacy of the States in administering the education sector as originally conceived in the Constitution. His letter was addressed to the Chief Ministers of Andhra Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Goa, Jharkhand, Kerala, Maharashtra, Odisha, Punjab, Rajasthan, Telangana and West Bengal.

Moreover, the NEET Exemption Bill which was sent to Governor RN Ravi in September 2021 following the death of the Salem student, was returned to the Tamil Nadu government last year. Earlier, the DMK government and the governor had a frequent silent wars and following which the party boycotted an event at Raj Bhawan in April this year alleging delay of several bills passed by the State Assembly, including ‘dispense of NEET’ bill.

Eventually, the state government passed the NEET Exemption Bill for the second time during February this year. Later, Governor RN Ravi has reportedly referred the anti-NEET bill to the Centre for President Ram Nath Kovind’s nod.

However, if President Kovind approves the anti-NEET bill and the Centre passes it, the state government will have the power to hold state-level entrance examinations or considering the Class 12 scores for medical admissions, while the national-level exam will not be the only way to get admissions in medical colleges. On the whole, the Tamil Nadu government, in favor of people and students, called on for the next step as part of struggle for NEET Exemption to jointly take all efforts to insist the Centre for Indian President’s approval for the anti-NEET bill.

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