Bengaluru: Almost all major opposition parties in Tamil Nadu were out on the streets on Thursday, forming human chains and picketing central government offices, to protest against making National Eligibility and Entrance Test (NEET) the sole gateway for medical admission.
Tamil Nadu is not alone. One month into the debut year of NEET-based admission process, this is the latest in the show of fierce protests against it across states. Experts said it has cast a question on whether the one-nation-one-test-one-merit list theory—the premise behind a Supreme Court order last year which made NEET the one and only entry point to study medicine in the current year—has done more harm than good in its attempt to ensure a level-playing field.
While speculations of a leak of NEET question paper after hacking is leading to arrests and demands for a re-test on one side, states like Tamil Nadu are questioning the arrangement of holding a single test in the field of medical education. The state near unanimously passed an assembly resolution recently saying that the state board students have been unfairly disadvantaged when compared to students under CBSE, which conducts the NEET, which was followed by the government passing an order reserving 85% of the seats for state students.
But the order was struck down by Madras high court earlier this month, causing the protests to spill out to the streets. Facing the heat, Chennai is now trying to convince New Delhi to get Tamil Nadu an exemption from NEET for the current year.
Similar concerns prevail in neighbouring Puducherry, where chief minister V. Narayanasamy has thrown his weight behind the insider student versus the outsider, and wanted to postpone the NEET counselling. But the Medical Council of India (MCI) rejected his request this week, triggering protests.
While the governments are trying for internal reservation, the students are coming out with ideas to overcome it. In Maharashtra, for instance, the government stalled the admission process on Tuesday over suspicion of candidates in the NEET merit list in the state, who claim to be residents of Maharashtra but have domicile certificates in other states like Uttar Pradesh, Delhi and so on, reported the Times of India on 25 July. Similar issues are marring the NEET merit list in Rajasthan, which houses one of the most sought after coaching institutes like KOTA, the Times of India reported on Tuesday.
In Uttar Pradesh, the government tried to make NEET applicable for aspirants who wanted to study alternative medicine courses such as ayurveda, yoga, naturopathy, unani, siddha and homoeopathy—together called AYUSH courses. The move was quashed by the Allahabad high court on Wednesday, Press Trust of India reported, leaving a cloud of uncertainty over the admission process so far.
The CBSE holding NEET in regional languages has also landed up in trouble in states like West Bengal, Gujarat and Tamil Nadu, based on claims of varying levels of difficulty in the papers when compared to the one in English. The parents of the students who have written the test in Gujarati held a protest march in Ahmedabad last Sunday, challenging “tougher" questions, while West Bengal parliamentarian Derek O’Brien raised the issue in Rajya Sabha on Monday.
Making NEET the common gateway also meant the respective state governments can take over the entire allotment process, unlike earlier years when private managements were filling up seats from their own merit lists in many states. The government overseeing was thought to bring down the fees and put an end to some of the anomalies often associated with private colleges, such as asking for bribe in favour of seats.
However, so far, the experience in states like Karnataka and Kerala has been different. Post NEET, both state governments are allowing a fee hike or curtailing affirmative actions. In Kerala, the government fixed a uniform fee structure to bring down the fees charged by private players, but it meant it has put an end to a two-decade-old affirmative action to support the underprivileged in higher education.
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In Karnataka, the government managed to continue with the affirmative action for under-privileged students, but had to allow private colleges to hike fees to the range of Rs99 lakh and Rs1.88 crore, according to a report in The Hindu on Sunday.
“All of this should have been expected the day Supreme Court fixed NEET as the common entrance last year," said Fazal Gafoor, an education expert and representative of private colleges from Kerala. “What it did was to pit students coming from an elite entrance coaching centre or from a highly developed state against those who don’t have quality coaching or schools. Naturally, the state governments will try to safeguard the interests of their states. What we are seeing are the practical difficulties in the plan itself, not in the execution," he said.