Students like Vijayalakshmi were happy when the Madras high court on 27 April directed the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE), which conducts NEET, to allot nearby centres. However, the Supreme Court’s order on 3 May staying the Madras high court’s direction has left Tamil Nadu’s NEET aspirants in anguish.
Vijayalakshmi is not alone. Some of her friends who opted for centres within Tamil Nadu have been allotted centres in Kerala. Television channel News18 Tamil Nadu reported that five students have been allotted centres in Rajasthan.
Parthi Ravichandran, a doctor from Tamil Nadu, claimed that a candidate has been allotted a centre in Gangtok, Sikkim. Mint was unable to contact the student.
According to K. Srinivasan, deputy secretary and regional officer of CBSE in Chennai, 5,371 students from Tamil Nadu have been allotted centres in Ernakulam.
Film director Pa. Ranjith, who is known for movies with strong political themes, said it was a “big injustice" meted out to students. “Students who were protesting to ban NEET are now pushed to situation where they have to plead for examination centres within the state. The central government and the state statement which acts as centre’s shadow, are responsible," he said on Twitter.
For the southern state, the last minute confusion in allotment of examination centres has come as a big jolt.
Following this, a petition was filed in the Madras high court on 25 April seeking direction to the CBSE to reallocate the centres.
The PIL submitted by advocate S. Kalimuthu Mylavan stated that though candidates preferred three examination centres of their choice while applying, they were allotted centres in other states. The candidates from the southern districts, particularly in Tirunelveli, Thoothukudi, Kanyakumari, Nagercoil and Trichy were allotted centres in Kerala and Rajasthan, the plea said.
The petition also contended that most of the candidates who had applied were from rural areas and from poor families and may not be able to afford to stay in other states.
The allotment of exam centres outside Tamil Nadu is against the CBSE’s own instructions set out in Chapter 2 rule 4 (c) of the information bulletin, which states: “Candidates must ensure that they should select the centre in their state of residence or in neighbouring city only and not in far away cities in other states. In case instructions are not complied with, CBSE may allot the centres different from the choice given or cancel the candidature."
Hearing the plea, a division bench of Justices Huluvadi G. Ramesh and M. Dhandapani directed CBSE on 27 April to reallocate centres within Tamil Nadu.
On 3 May, the CBSE told the SC: “There was no time to arrange more centres in Tamil Nadu. However, in all other states, candidates have been accommodated as per their choice."
While opposition leader M.K. Stalin said that the central government was not considering the interests of the students from Tamil Nadu and was causing unnecessary confusion, actor turned politician Kamal Haasan asked, “In this digital age, asking students from Tamil Nadu to go to Rajasthan and Kerala to write NEET is injustice. Why can’t they write from here?"
On 4 May, Tamil Nadu chief minister Edappadi K Palaniswami announced that Rs1,000 and train tickets would be provided for students travelling outside the state. While individuals and Tamil associations in other states poured in to support candidates through social media, the state government said it would operate special buses to Kerala.
DMK spokesperson Saravannan Annadurai said the Supreme Court decision is an “absolute shocker". “The order asking the students to travel thousands of kilometres to write an exam reeks of elitism. Who will bear the cost and inconvenience? Is that not the direct result of the incompetence of the CBSE which conducts it?"
Last year, 17-year old S. Anitha’s suicide after failing to clear the entrance test, intensified the protests in Tamil Nadu.
Meanwhile, two bills passed by the state government seeking exemption for Tamil Nadu from the NEET examination are waiting for the President of India’s assent, for more than a year.