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Testing times on NEET (Hindu.)

 It is a measured gambit by Tamil Nadu. The State has taken the legislative route to grant itself exemption from the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET), a uniform examination that will decide admission to medical courses all over the country. The two Bills passed by the State Assembly seek to retain its present admission system for under-graduate and post-graduate medical courses based on marks obtained by students in their higher secondary school examination. The Bills are likely to displease the Supreme Court, which insists that NEET marks be the sole basis for admission. The Bills will also require the President’s assent; else they would be repugnant to the provisions of the Indian Medical Council Act and the Dentists Act that prescribe the entrance test. Tamil Nadu, which abolished entrance examinations to professional courses in 2006, argues that NEET would be traumatic for both parents and children, as it would be based on a syllabus different from the one taught in schools under the board for higher secondary education. The fear is that NEET would be insurmountable for students from rural areas and under-privileged backgrounds and those who cannot afford coaching centres. Its concern that urban students, especially those from streams such as the CBSE, would dominate admissions under NEET cannot be dismissed easily.

Regulations introducing NEET were struck down by a three-judge Bench of the Supreme Court in 2013 by a two-one majority. Last year, a five-judge Bench recalled the verdict and NEET was back in place. Students all over the country were gripped by anxiety and tension following the sudden change in the admission method. The Centre promulgated an ordinance to grant relief for under-graduate medical admissions in 2016, but no such protection is available this year. There is now an inevitable conflict between the need for a fair and transparent admission system to curb rampant commercialisation of medical education and the socio-economic goals of the State, which is worried about producing enough committed doctors ready to serve in rural areas. Both objectives are indeed laudable. However, a moot question is whether uniformity should be thrust on a country that has wide regional, economic and linguistic disparities. Normally it is the political leadership, and not the courts, that should harmonise such differences and evolve a viable admission policy. At the same time, States cannot remain forever insulated from the need to upgrade educational standards. It may be easy to advise the courts to keep out of the policy domain, but a more difficult task is for institutions in the government and the private sector to maintain standards and pass the court’s triple test of fairness, transparency and freedom from exploitation.

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