The story so far: On October 30, the Tamil Nadu Governor gave his assent to a Bill that sought to reserve 7.5% seats in undergraduate medical admissions for government-school students who qualified NEET . The Tamil Nadu Assembly had passed a Bill on the quota in September this year.
Why was Tamil Nadu opposed to NEET?
Among the States that were strident in their opposition to NEET (National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test) was Tamil Nadu. The opposition was manifest in protests on the streets and in the corridors of justice. One of the primary arguments that were made was that NEET would push certain categories of students out of the race for MBBS degrees, and its goal of providing equitable opportunities for all would be frustrated. Students from government schools and rural areas would not be able to afford the coaching that would be essential for the competitive test, the State government argued. The State wanted to continue its own criteria for entry of students from government schools and rural areas into medical colleges — candidates were being accommodated with a computed aggregate score of relevant subjects in the Class XII examination.
Since 2017, when NEET was implemented in Tamil Nadu, only 14 students from government schools have managed to get admitted to the MBBS course.
What did the State do?
The inevitability of using NEET to select candidates for MBBS seats led critics to point to unique disadvantages for students from government schools, and seek redress on this front. The government ran free coaching centres for NEET to help students prepare for the examination.
In 2018-2019 and 2019-2020, of the nearly 700 government-school students who cleared the NEET, nine entered government medical colleges, according to data provided by Tamil Nadu health authorities. In 2017, the Centre granted exemption to the State to admit students under the State quota (SQ) based on marks in Class XII. But self-financing colleges had to admit on the basis of NEET scores, and three students from government schools got admission into private medical colleges that year. Clearly, some form of affirmative action was required to increase these numbers, the government reasoned.
In mid-September, the Assembly passed a Bill that sought to provide 7.5% horizontal reservation for government-school students in MBBS admissions , based on the recommendations of a Commission headed by retired High Court judge P. Kalaiyarasan, to set right the “ de facto inequalities” between government-school students and private-school students. The Commission, in its report, made the observation that students from government schools are placed at a disadvantage, compared to their counterparts in private schools, “due to a cognitive gap created by socio-economic factors such as caste, wealth, parental occupation, parental education, gender, etc., and these psychological and socio-economic barriers cannot be bridged by a few months of intensive coaching for NEET, even if provided for free”. It recommended setting aside 10% seats for government students.
Who will benefit?
The government, however, chose to go with 7.5%. Students, who studied in government schools from Class VI onwards, including corporation schools, municipal schools, Adi Dravida and tribal welfare schools, Kallar reclamation schools, forest department schools and those managed by government departments, and have qualified the NEET, would benefit. An intervention was made to include students from government-aided schools too, but that has not been factored in yet. The Bill was passed unanimously, and forwarded to Governor Banwarilal Purohit for his assent.
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How many seats will students from government schools be eligible for this admission season?
In the MBBS course in government medical colleges, 15% seats are set aside under the All India Quota, and the remaining 85% will be available for the SQ, to be filled up according to the rule of reservation. A further percentage of seats (65% in private self-financing colleges, and 50% in private, self-financing minority colleges) will also be added to the government’s quota. This year, it adds up to a total of 4,058 seats, and 7.5% of that comes to 304 seats, according to State health authorites. Where 14 students were admitted in three years, 304 students from government schools will have the opportunity to take up medical education, provided they have cleared NEET, in Tamil Nadu.
Horizontal reservations are applied irrespective of the community a student belongs to, just as in the case of quota for persons with disability or wards of ex-service personnel. The government also specified that if a government-school student has scored high marks, she or he could also opt to be allotted a seat based on their community reservation.
State Health secretary, J. Radhakrishnan, reiterated that the integrity of the 69% caste-based reservation for medical admissions would be preserved while admitting students to ensure that it is not violated in any manner.