According to Chief Minister MK Stalin, who moved the Tamil Nadu Admission to Undergraduate Medical Degree Courses Act 2021 in the Assembly, the centralised, single-day medical entrance examination was putting students under undue pressure.
The anxiety around the exam was highlighted last Sunday when a 19-year-old medical aspirant from Salem committed suicide after two failed attempts at clearing the exam. And on Monday, yet another NEET aspirant, a Class 12 pass-out from Ariyalur ended her life, disappointed by her performance in the exam. Stalin has promised that the TN government will take up the issue on a pan-India level and continue the battle until the Centre scraps NEET. Stalin found a supporter in Makkal Needhi Maiam chief Kamal Haasan, who lambasted the Centre, citing the incident of a question paper leak in Jaipur, even as students in TN were killing themselves over the issue.
This is not TN’s first run-in with NEET, which was first held nationally in 2013. The previous AIADMK regime was also against the exam, which is the only test conducted for admission to both central and state level colleges for medical aspirants. This is unlike the options provided to engineering aspirants who have the choices of both central and state-level exams to qualify. It was only once in the year 2016, that the Centre decided that seats in state government medical colleges and government seats in private medical colleges won’t be allotted based on NEET. TN had even proceeded with passing an ordinance against NEET in the state assembly in 2017, but it was not given the Presidential go-ahead.
In July, a state committee set up to assess the socioeconomic impact of NEET had some revealing numbers to share. The Justice AK Rajan Committee found that students who had enrolled in MBBS courses through NEET had performed dismally as compared to those students who were enrolled in medical colleges on the basis of their marks in Class 12. Dr Jawahar Nesan, an educationalist, who served as a member of the panel, warned that the exam was a hazard to TN’s robust public health system.
He argued that the students who got admitted based on NEET scores hailed from well-to-do families. This in turn led to 70 per cent of students completing their post-graduation and opting to work for private hospitals. It’s a far cry from the pre-NEET days when 70 per cent of students chose to work with government hospitals. One must also consider the fact that the annual turnover of over 400 odd coaching centres in TN exceeds Rs 6,000 cr. It’s a cash cow as students cough up between Rs 1.2 lakh and Rs 5 lakh per year for NEET coaching. It’s a sum that cannot be afforded by those hailing from economically challenged families.
The Centre’s argument favouring NEET is that admissions to medical colleges are now based on merit, as opposed to the previous system where seats in private colleges were sold, after declaring non-meritorious students as passed. The Education and Health Ministries are mulling to hold the medical entrance exams twice a year, on the lines of the JEE which is held four times a year. The Centre has also introduced reservations for candidates in the EWS and OBC categories. So is it possible for TN to scrap NEET for its students? Two years ago, then Union HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar said all states have accepted the test and that it would be impossible to exempt only TN from this exam. As it stands now, TN passing an anti-NEET bill could be the start of a long-drawn battle with the Centre that might not bear the desired outcome.