TAMIL NADU PASSES BILL TO BOYCOTT NEET

INTRODUCTION

On 13th September 2021, the Tamil Nadu legislative assembly led by chief minister M K Stalin passed a bill seeking permanent exemption from the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET). This bill would allow students admission to undergraduate courses in medicine, dentistry, Indian medicine, and homoeopathy based on the marks obtained in their Class XII exams. Further, this bill would give government schools students 7.5 per cent horizontal reservation in medical admission. The bill called The Tamil Nadu Admission to Medical Degree Courses Bill, 2021 received support from all parties including the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Khazagam (AIADMK). The lone opposing party was the Bhartiya Janata Party (BJP). Since this bill aims at bypassing a central law, it can only come into effect after the President’s approval. The bill claimed that NEET “festers inequality as it favours the rich and more privileged class of society who can afford special coaching, apart from pursuing class 12”.[1]

NEED FOR THE BILL

NEET has always been a sensitive topic in the past for its association with suicides across the state, the most infamous being that of Anita, a 17-year-old girl who died by suicide in 2017 after failing to clear NEET despite performing well in her class XII exams.[2] At least fifteen students have committed suicide in the state according to the Press Trust of India, the most recent being 17-year-old Kanimozhi who died by suicide on 14th September 2021 (Monday) after being ‘depressed’ about her performance.[3] This was the second case after Dhanush who took his life on the day of the exam.

A committee headed by retired Madras High Court Justice A.K. Rajan was formed by the ruling party earlier this year in June to determine the effect of NEET. The committee conducted a careful study and arrived at several conclusions. It reported that if NEET were to continue, the health care system of the state would be adversely affected, and the number of doctors would not be adequate for rural postings. The poor (both rural and urban) may not be able to join medical degree courses.

It was clear from the committee’s report that NEET was not a “fair or equitable method of admission since it favours the rich and elite section of the society”[4]. The preamble said that doing away with the common entrance exam did not dilute the quality of education. In the Statement of Objects and Reasons, the bill stated that NEET was biased as it catered to the rich and shattered the dreams of the poor. The rich would often engage private tutors while pursuing class XII, while the poor had no such resources and as a result, could not crack the exam.

The committee also concluded that NEET was opposing the disadvantaged groups like the mostly Backward Classes, the Scheduled Castes, the Scheduled Tribes, etc as they were mostly comprised of Tamil medium students who attended government schools and had low-income parents with incomes below Rs. 2.5 lakhs per annum. The committee further said that NEET was a massive financial burden to the underprivileged and “It festers inequality, as it favours the rich and more privileged classes of society who can afford special coaching apart from pursuing Cass XII. It virtually barricades the underprivileged social groups from medical and dental education. This is against the very object of the equality clause enshrined in the Constitution and it also infringes the right to education of children from these underprivileged classes of society.”[5] The Rajan committee advised the state government to pass Acts like the Tamil Nadu Admission in Professional Education Institutions Act, 2006 (act 3 of 2006). NEET was not considered as an adequate measure to select students. After the Rajan committee submitted its report, another committee headed by Chief Secretary V Irai Anbu was formed which also supported the invalidation of NEET.[6]

INCONSISTENCY BETWEEN THE LAWS

According to Article 246 of the Indian constitution, only the central government has the powers to make laws on the subjects on the union list, while state legislatures can make laws on items on the state list.

NEET has become the only undergraduate exam for admission into medical degree courses ever since the National Medical Commission Act, 2019. This act was a central act dealing with higher education falling under the concurrent list. The concurrent list is containing 52 items on which both, the central and state government can make laws. Uniformity is desirable but not necessary for items on the concurrent list. According to sub-clause 1, Article 254 of Part XI (Relations between the union and the state) of the Indian constitution, in case of any inconsistency between laws made by the parliament and laws made by the legislatures of states:

If any provision of a law made by the Legislature of a State is repugnant to any provision of a law made by Parliament which Parliament is competent to enact, or to any provision of an existing law concerning one of the matters enumerated in the Concurrent List, then, subject to the provisions of clause (2), the law made by Parliament, whether passed before or after the law made by the Legislature of such State or, as the case may be, the existing law, shall prevail and the law made by the Legislature of the State shall, to the extent of the repugnancy, be void.”[7]

This means that if the state legislature passes a law that opposes any law passed by the union government, the law of the parliament will prevail. There exists, however, a recourse. If the bill passed by the state legislature receives the support of the President of India, the law of the state legislature will prevail in that particular state. According to sub-clause 2, section 254 of the constitution:

Where a law made by the Legislature of a State concerning one of the matters enumerated in the Concurrent List contains any provision repugnant to the provisions of an earlier law made by Parliament or any existing law concerning that matter, then, the law so made by the Legislature of such State shall if it has been reserved for the consideration of the President and has received his assent, prevail in that State:

Provided that nothing in this clause shall prevent Parliament from enacting at any time any law concerning the same matter including a law adding to, amending, varying or repealing the law so made by the Legislature of the State.[8]

In this case, even if the President were to give his approval, the parliament still has the power to pass another law on the subject, or to amend, repeal, or invalidate the Tamil Nadu Admission to Medical Degree Courses Bill, 2021. Another factor here is Entry 66 of the union list which states: “Coordination and determination of standards in institutions for higher education or research and scientific and technical institutions”

Entry 66 would prevail over subjects included by entry 25 of the Concurrent list as was held by the Supreme Court in the case of Christian Medical College v. Union of India and Ors.[9] This verdict given by the Apex court could be used by the union to determine that states do not have the power to seek exemption from NEET since NEET falls under the National Medical Commission act which is traceable to entry 66 of the union list and not the concurrent list as cited by the centre[10].

CONCLUSION

The Tamil Nadu Admission to Medical Courses Bill, 2021 is a blessing to underprivileged families across the state, in my humble opinion. It is a boon for those parents who earn the minimum wage and dream of better lives for their children. It is a need of the hour measure introduced by the state government for the benefit of their citizens. At present, only the privileged students who attend more expensive schools, or have access to better teachers at private coaching institutions etc can crack NEET and secure seats in medical colleges. The poor remain behind. With the introduction of a law like the above proposed, they would also have a fighting chance. While the journey of the bill to become an act is a long and arduous one, I for one, hope it reaches its destination.

Author(s) Name: Shradha Ahuja (Himachal Pradesh National Law University, Shimla)

References:

[1] ‘Tamil Nadu assembly clears bill to exempt state from NEET, BJP stages walkout’ (The Indian Express, 14th September) < Tamil Nadu Assembly clears Bill to exempt state from NEET, BJP stages walkout | Cities News,The Indian Express> accessed 18 September 2021

[2] The wire staff, ‘Tamil Nadu passes bill to allow medical admission without NEET’ (The Wire, 14th September 2021) <Tamil Nadu Passes Bill to Allow Medical Admissions Without NEET (thewire.in)> accessed 19 September 2021

[3] IANS, ‘Tamil Nadu girl commits suicide over fear of NEET exam’ (The Times of India, 14th September 2021) <Tamil Nadu girl commits suicide over fear of NEET exam – Times of India (indiatimes.com)> accessed 19 September 2021

[4] ‘Tamil Nadu assembly clears bill to exempt state from NEET, BJP stages walkout’ (The Indian Express, 14th September) <Tamil Nadu Assembly clears Bill to exempt state from NEET, BJP stages walkout | Cities News,The Indian Express> Accessed 19th September 2021

[5] Id

[6] Id

[7] Constitution of India art. 254(1)

[8] Constitution of India art. 254(2)

[9] Christian Medical College Vellore Assn. v. Union of India (2020) 8 SCC 705

[10] Apoorva Mandhani ‘TN passed bill to exclude state from NEET. But here’s why assembly approval isn’t enough’ (The Print, 18th September 2021) <TN passed bill to exclude state from NEET. But here’s why assembly approval isn’t enough (theprint.in)> accessed 21 September 2021

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