Editorial

A quota case: On quota politics

Quota politics is back in play to favour, this time, students from government higher secondary schools in Tamil Nadu. The Cabinet’s nod on Monday, for an ordinance to create a horizontal 7.5% reservation of the State’s quota of seats in medical colleges, is a well-intentioned move to address the problem of poor representation from government schools in MBBS/BDS courses which has been in existence even prior to the introduction of NEET for admission. The issue of inequity has come in for criticism against NEET which came into operation in Tamil Nadu in 2017. Since then, there has been a high-decibel campaign, against NEET and the AIADMK government, led by Edappadi K. Palaniswami, on the ground that the design and form of the test are loaded against students of rural areas, government schools, Backward and Most Backward Classes, and Scheduled Castes/Scheduled Tribes. Like in the case of other professional course entrance tests, most candidates clearing NEET in Tamil Nadu are invariably those who undergo private coaching. It was also in the last three years that the AIADMK regime veered closer towards the BJP-led government at the Centre. Despite the authorities asserting that NEET is neither against communal reservation nor weaker sections, the campaign appears to have had an impact during the 2019 Lok Sabha polls as the DMK-led front won 38 out of 39 seats. The State’s latest decision comes in the backdrop of this factor and also of next year’s Assembly election.

It is unclear whether the horizontal reservation will pass legal scrutiny. In February 2002, the Madras High Court quashed the horizontal quota of 25% in professional courses for higher secondary students from schools in village panchayats. This time, the State has acted on a panel recommendation, which concluded that there was a “cognitive gap” among students of government schools, given the perception that those from the CBSE stream enjoy greater advantage in NEET than students of the State board. Those backing the latest quota cite special reservation for the differently-abled and an arrangement in Karnataka, of 15% of seats being set apart for rural students seeking professional courses. Apparently, there is nothing in NEET’s rules against States providing “special reservation” out of their quota of seats, a position articulated, in 2017, by former Union Health Minister and BJP president, J.P. Nadda, in favour of rural students. The trend of horizontal reservation is happening with respect to national law universities for students from the host States. It is debatable whether the test of backwardness can be stretched to any extent although the equity principle is important. While poor representation in professional courses from the vulnerable sections is a symptom, the causes are deep-rooted. A holistic and sustained approach to improve school education will alone pave the way for a lasting solution.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 7:05:44 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/editorial/a-quota-case-on-quota-politics/article31845759.ece

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