States might be allowed to continue with their medical entrance tests this year following concerns that a common national examination hurts rural students because of no regional language options and the widely varying syllabi of different boards.
The Union cabinet approved on Friday an ordinance that partially bypassed the Supreme Court order mandating a National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) and exempted state government examinations from the framework for a year.
If the ordinance is passed, it will likely be challenged in the top court.
“The cabinet has given an opinion. Latest by tomorrow or day after, we will come to a conclusion,” Union health minister JP Nadda tweeted.
Over 650,000 candidates took the first phase of the NEET on May 1 for admission to mostly central government colleges for undergraduate and postgraduate medical and dental courses.
The second phase – which was to decide admission to around 85% of India’s 40,000-odd medical seats – is scheduled for July 24. This phase was set to cover mostly private and state government medical seats.
Health ministry sources said private college seats earmarked by the state government will also be exempted. Different states set aside anything between 12 to 15% seats under the state quota.
“Concerns of state govts & lakhs of aspiring medical students regarding NEET being addressed,” tweeted Nadda.
On April 11, the Supreme Court ordered a single medical test, benefiting aspirants who juggle clashing exam schedules and differing admission norms by private colleges.
The NEET was to replace a patchwork system where several states hold their own medical tests. The national test would be conducted by the Central Board of Secondary Education in English and Hindi.
But about 15 states urged the Centre to postpone the national test as it clashed with state-board examination processes.
Representatives from states also told Nadda on Monday that non-CBSE candidates will be disadvantaged by the NEET as there was too little time left for students to bridge the difference between state board syllabi and the central curriculum.
Moreover, the absence of regional language options meant non-English or Hindi-speaking students would find it difficult to score well in the NEET, the Centre was told.
But Sankalp Charitable Trust – an organisation that earlier moved the top court in support of NEET – said the government couldn’t circumvent the SC’s order.
“The Centre during the hearing of the case had taken a stand before the Supreme Court that it has no difficulty in holding NEET. Now it cannot just take a U-turn and allow state boards to be out of the ambit,” the NGO’s lawyer Amit Kumar said.
The Congress termed the ordinance “highly inappropriate” and said the NDA government “succumbed” to pressures from the medical lobby.
“Private medical colleges are run by very influential people, many of them politicians, and the government has succumbed to their pressure,” Congress spokesman PC Chacko said.
Many states requested for a year to implement the NEET and asked for deferment for a year, with parents saying a hasty implementation jeopardises the careers of millions of students. Hundreds of parents in Mumbai even took to the streets.
“Most States are in favour of NEET in- principle. However, some states expressed that there are some logistical issues that are impeding its implementation, and therefore they have desired for some more time,” Nadda had said on Monday.
Vinod Tawade, education and health minister of Maharashtra, said the NEET needed to be postponed because of the regional language problem and the syallbi mismatch. “So, we have requested the minister to appeal to the court and if the court does not agree, the exam can be differed using an ordinance,” he said.
Karnataka’s health minister UT Khader agreed, saying it will be difficult for the students of regional languages to take the test.