Case against NEET goes beyond failings of NTA - Hindustan Times
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Case against NEET goes beyond failings of NTA

Jun 24, 2024 08:22 PM IST

NEET-UG 2024 results lead to controversy, retest for 1,563 candidates after SC intervention. Larger issues of fairness and equity in NEET remain unaddressed.

On June 4, the declaration of results from the general elections coincided with the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET)-UG 2024 results, both leading to unexpected outcomes. Interestingly, it has been the NEET results that have led to greater controversy, broad-based introspection and judicial intervention. After the Supreme Court (SC) stepped into question irregularities in awarding grace marks, the National Testing Agency (NTA) agreed to conduct a retest for 1,563 candidates, which was held on Sunday. This seems to be a temporary antidote at best, while deep-rooted causes remain unaddressed and the prognosis for the future of NEET appears to be grave.

Kolkata, India - June 24, 2024: All India Democratic Students' Organisation (AIDSO), affiliated with Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist) (SUCI(C) supporters staged a protest rally against recent scam in NEET and UGC-NET exam at Moulali in Kolkata, India, on Monday, June 24, 2024. (Photo by Samir Jana/ Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times)
Kolkata, India - June 24, 2024: All India Democratic Students' Organisation (AIDSO), affiliated with Socialist Unity Centre of India (Communist) (SUCI(C) supporters staged a protest rally against recent scam in NEET and UGC-NET exam at Moulali in Kolkata, India, on Monday, June 24, 2024. (Photo by Samir Jana/ Hindustan Times) (Hindustan Times)

The One Country One Test paradigm attracted controversy from its very inception in 2012. Till 2015, NEET was not conducted on the basis of the SC order declaring it to be unconstitutional. However, in April 2016, the SC, in the case of Sankalp Charitable Trust and another vs Union of India and Ors, (2016), reviewed its earlier decision and mandated NEET to be the single entrance test for medical courses across India. Notably, Tamil Nadu, one of the states exempted from NEET initially, has been protesting against its implementation.

The present controversy has arisen due to suspicious marking practices that have led to an unusually high number of candidates scoring perfect 720 out of 720 marks as well as awarding of grace marks based on a loss of time by applying the normalisation formula. This formula was endorsed by the SC in the case of Disha Panchal and others vs Union of India, (2019) when candidates for the Common Law Admission Test faced glitches in the examination portal. While the Grievance Redressal Committee has reviewed the case of 1563 candidates who appeared in the NEET exam this year and received grace marks, it has not explained other anomalies in patterns in this year’s results.

Though this retest has been accepted by the SC, it does not deal with the arbitrariness of the grace marks based on a normalisation formula that was neither informed to candidates prior to the exam nor accepted by any court of law to be used in such a manner. Conducting a fresh examination for a select number of students has the effect of giving them additional preparation time and holding the exam under different conditions altogether. This, inevitably, raises the issue of disrupting the level playing field that was in existence during the original test. There will also be questions about the differing difficulty levels of the two test papers.

However, larger and more fundamental questions around NEET remain unresolved. The One Nation One Test model promotes a one-size-fits-all approach that can be inherently discriminatory. In a country with a diverse school curriculum, learning difficulties, and affordability issues, the common test paradigm will only favour those who are placed on the higher echelons.

The committee, chaired by justice (retd.) AK Rajan, was appointed by the government of Tamil Nadu to study the impact of the NEET exam. After undertaking a detailed analysis of family backgrounds and educational backgrounds of students admitted to study medicine over 10 years or so, the Justice Rajan Committee concluded that the introduction of a common exam such as NEET disadvantages candidates from rural, non-English speaking and economically weaker backgrounds. Shifting the metric from the school leaving examination to an additional, extra-curricular test has made the role of coaching centres critical to success.

NEET has been an affront to social justice from the beginning. Now, NEET has been marred by arbitrariness in its procedure. Though the recent attention is a result of the marking practices, the larger issues around fairness and equity remain unresolved. As a concept, a common test cannot determine access to all colleges to study medicine. Even the Common Law Admission Test (CLAT) only controls admission mostly to national law universities. In contrast, NEET has taken over admission to colleges run by the state government and also private colleges. It places undue importance on one type of educational syllabus over all others. Even if marking irregularities or incompetence of the NTA is factored out, the NEET model of examination will fail the test on principles of inequality and anti-federalism.

Manuraj Shunmugasundaram is a DMK media spokesperson and advocate practising before the Madras High Court. Inputs were provided by Arya Abaranji PS. The views expressed are personal

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