The teenaged Dalit girl who committed suicide in Ariyalur district on Friday was a petitioner in the Supreme Court against the implementation of the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for admissions to medical courses in Tamil Nadu. The NEET, in fact, has been at the centre of political and legal tussles ever since its inception in 2013 — the year the first common medical entrance test was conducted before it ran into rough weather. Last week, the Supreme Court rejected all pleas for exemption of Tamil Nadu from the ambit of NEET and asked for counselling to start. The longstanding demand for exemption could not be granted despite senior Union ministers batting for the cause or the bonhomie between the BJP and post-merger AIADMK.
The NEET was introduced in the wake of repeated complaints about admission and capitation fees in medical colleges. It was stayed in 2013 after a clutch of petitions from deemed universities, minority institutions and some state governments reached the Supreme Court. The test was finally started in 2016, much to the chagrin of states like Tamil Nadu which argued that the test favoured CBSE students and that students from far-flung areas and weaker sections would lose out. Former chief minister J Jayalalithaa wrote letters to then PM Manmohan Singh and later to his successor Narendra Modi on the matter.
The attorney general initially gave the go-ahead to an ordinance that would exempt Tamil Nadu from NEET when it was referred to him by the law ministry. However, when the ordinance was sent back to him by the health ministry — the only part of the government that had been vehemently against such an exemption on the ground that it would make the very edifice of the medical education reform crumble — two weeks ago, along with additional inputs on court judgments on the subject, the AG revised his judgement and found the ordinance to be not good in law. That was possibly the final nail in the coffin.
Sources said the AG’s first opinion was based on the fact that an exemption ordinance could be brought as per provisions of the Constitution. However, past legal battle in courts meant there was additional jurisprudence that had not been brought to his notice. A health ministry source said, “For us, it is very clear that today if we exempt Tamil Nadu, tomorrow West Bengal will ask for it, the day after, somebody else will ask for it. NEET will vanish into thin air. We could not let that happen after having fought so hard for it.”