Madras HC gives nod to Stalin’s panel on NEET, dismisses BJP’s plea
The Madras high court on Tuesday dismissed Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) plea challenging Tamil Nadu government’s decision to constitute a committee to study the impact of National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) on socially and economically backward medical aspirants.
The first bench of chief justice Sanjib Banerjee and justice Senthilkumar Ramamoorthy said that by no stretch of imagination, the constitution of the commission can be seen as contrary to the orders of the Supreme Court or as a counter to any legislative action taken by the Union government.
The ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) constituted the committee headed by retired justice AK Rajan in June to study the impact of NEET, take in public suggestions and indicate alternative admission procedures and the legal steps to be undertaken to implement such fair and equitable methods. One of the election promises of the DMK is to abolish the NEET. The BJP’s Tamil Nadu general secretary, Karu Nagarajan filed a public interest litigation (PIL) seeking to quash the committee.
The National Eligibility cum Entrance Test is an all India pre-medical entrance test for students who wish to pursue undergraduate medical (MBBS), dental (BDS) and equivalent Ayush BAMS, BUMS, etc. courses in government and private institutions in India and also, for those intending to pursue primary medical qualification abroad.
NEET is a sensitive issue in Tamil Nadu since several medical aspirants have died by suicide. It has gone through several legal wrangles before it entered the state in 2017. Until then Tamil Nadu considered class 12 board exam marks for admissions into medical colleges. The move to abolish NEET is supported by all political parties in Tamil Nadu except the BJP, which is in alliance with the opposition led by the AIADMK.
In an affidavit filed last week, the Centre said it was out of Tamil Nadu’s jurisdiction to constitute a panel and that it was a futile exercise. The petitioner and the Union government cited previous orders of the Supreme Court on the case of NEET to say that the panel is unconstitutional. The Union government argued that, according to provisions under the National Medical Commission Act, 2019 and the constitutional lists, the committee is neither requisite nor valid.
However, the judges said there is nothing to prevent an elected government from studying the impact of NEET. “For all we know, the commission may come up with some material that the state government may use to persuade the Union to search for an alternative or modify the process to make it more inclusive for students belonging to the socially backward and economically weaker sections to participate therein with a better chance of success,” the court said in its orders. “The issuance of the notification does not exceed the authority of the state government. As long as the state government does not do anything to upset the procedure for admission to medical institutions as established by law, it does not call for any interference.”
The court also observed that there could be another point of view on the way forward for Tamil Nadu students to compete with others in NEET by raising the standard of school education in the state. “It is a question of policy as to whether the bar has to be raised at the school level or the bar has to be lowered at the medical college admission level and such matters of policy are resolved by discussion and any attempt at mature resolution begins with lending the ear and being receptive to the other point of view,” the court said.
TN chief minister MK Stalin welcomed the judgment saying the “important verdict is the starting point for the Tamil Nadu government’s determination and efforts.” He criticised the BJP for supporting the government’s stance with regards to NEET in the legislative assembly but subsequently filing a legal case.
He said it was a “blow” to the BJP, and established the party’s “duplicity”. Since the NEET schedule for the year has already been announced for September, Stalin pointed out that the legal steps to be taken after the panel submits its report wouldn’t be over by then. “But we will ensure a situation where we would have ended the difficulties caused to our students due to NEET,” he said.