Supreme Court ruling is silent on whether a body other than the Medical Council of India can conduct a uniform entrance test for medical colleges

The Supreme Court, two judges to one, has quashed the Medical Council of India’s move to conduct a National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET). As per this order, no admissions to medical and dental colleges can be made via NEET.

As a result, about 90, 000 aspirants for medical seats will continue to take multiple examinations, and, pay lakhs as capitation for medical seats in private colleges. The Court has however stated that admissions already made via NEET will not be affected by this order.

The Judges’ rationale, we learn from initial reports, was that the Medical Council Act did not give the Council powers to conduct exams, it can only frame guidelines for doing so.

While it seems that the judges have not questioned the innate unfairness of having one common entrance exam when the Central Institutes had already quietly opted out of NEET, the judgment has found support in many States.

Tamil Nadu was among the first few States to oppose the conduct of NEET. Subsequently, as the Central Institutes, AIIMS and PGI, stayed out of NEET, conducting their own entrance examinations and admitting students, the chorus of dissent against NEET grew more vociferous.

Soon, the National Board of Examinations, which awards the DNB qualification, also conducted its own examinations.

In effect, then, it turned out that what was not good enough for the Central Institutes was considered good enough for the States. Naturally, the States objected; slowly, their voices grew louder. A number of cases were filed across the country by medical institutions and States objecting to the implementation of NEET. States also reasoned that they would have to have a control on PG admissions if they were to be able to retain professionals in the State's medical services cadre.

Thus, the original concept of having one common exam that would help students seek admission in medical colleges across the country, was frustrated. And that is when NEET became unfeasible, impractical. The original intent -- to save students the bother of writing multiple exams across locations, of having the same standard to judge applicants by -- failed after subsequent exceptions.

In its original form, NEET would have ensured a transparent admission process. It could have been the best tool to put an end to the huge overcharging for medical seats in private medical colleges and deemed universities. The scarcity of seats in the medical sector has led to private medical colleges charging up to Rs. 80 lakh as capitation fees, and about Rs. 9 lakh fees per annum. It is in its failure to fix this situation that the biggest disappointment of NEET lies.

Since the judges have decided to ignore the pressing question of inequalities, another pertinent issue arises out of the ashes of this NEET. If the Medical Council of India cannot conduct examinations, as the judgment has indicated, can NEET be restored by assigning this task to some other institution? Such an institution may not exist today, but if the Union government iand its policymakers are intent on NEET, the creation of a separate body to conduct examinations is neither impossible, nor difficult. The question is, will they?

Perhaps, we have not heard the last yet on NEET.

(Ramya Kannan reports on medical issues for The Hindu)

ramya.kannan@thehindu.co.in

IT’S NOT NEET?
Do we need a national entrance test for medical education?
Yes. It will go a long way in regulating medical education.
No. It infringes on the right of States to keep education as a State subject.
No. It will push medical education out of the reach of non-CBSE students.
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