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Sunday, June 26, 2022

Tamil Nadu governor must not delay assent to anti-NEET bill. Doing so will invite suspicions of overreach

The Tamil Nadu government’s displeasure at what it considers the governor’s uncalled-for critique and his “big brother” attitude is not entirely without basis.

By: Editorial |
Updated: February 10, 2022 8:55:58 am
There is much that is questionable about Tamil Nadu’s position on breaking away from the NEET.

The Tamil Nadu government is standing its ground on the promise to scrap the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET). Less than a week after the governor returned the bill that frees the state’s medical colleges from the compulsion of admitting students through NEET, a special session of the Tamil Nadu assembly has re-adopted the bill — a first for the legislature. That’s as strong a signal as the elected government can send to the governor about its intent. In returning the bill, Governor R N Ravi had flagged several concerns, and said it was “against the interests of students, especially (those from) rural and economically poor students of the state”. But the Constitution is unambiguous about what the governor must do now — according to Article 200, once the bill is sent to him for the second time, he must give his assent, and send it onwards to the President.

There is much that is questionable about Tamil Nadu’s position on breaking away from the NEET. The all-India test was conceived as a way out of longstanding problems with the medical admission system, from multiple entrance examinations to corruption. The fear that a section of Tamil Nadu’s students might not perform well can be addressed if the state government invests resources and attention to modernising the curriculum. But while those may be grounds for the governor’s reservations, constitutional propriety demands that he must act on the advice of the council of ministers of an elected government. It must be remembered that scrapping the NEET was a part of the election manifesto of the DMK, and that the bill enjoys support from other major parties of the state, including the AIADMK. Seen in this light, the Tamil Nadu government’s displeasure at what it considers the governor’s uncalled-for critique and his “big brother” attitude is not entirely without basis. Given the long history of governors being used by strong central governments to chip away at the federal compact and the more recent Centre-state tussles over several issues, from the jurisdiction of the BSP to IAS service rules, Ravi’s action might invite suspicions of overreach, when he should be acting as a bridge between the state and the Centre.

The future of the NEET exemption bill is, of course, uncertain. It sets up the state government on a path of confrontation with the Centre. The bill needs the President’s assent for it to become law. But while those contestations and debates will take their own course, the Tamil Nadu governor must play by the rulebook.

This editorial first appeared in the print edition on February 10, 22 under the title ‘Play by rulebook’.

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