Hon’ble Speaker of the House. Elections were held in the Province of Madras when the electoral system was first established in India to elect people’s representatives by the people. The Justice Party, pioneer of the Dravidian movement, formed the government in the first general election in 1920, when the country was under British rule.
All those who travelled to India from England to observe the working of the Madras Provincial Assembly remarked that the Madras Province is the only province in India governed by the rule of law and administrative protocols.
This is a significant day in the history of this House, which established such democratic values. We have assembled here to defend democracy, to preserve democracy’s dignity, to uphold the principle of federalism, and to secure the right to education.
To defend federal philosophy
We are not only getting together to talk about the NEET Exam [the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test]. We have gathered to preserve the Tamil Nadu Legislature’s sovereignty and rights. Federalism is a fundamental idea that truly safeguards the ethnic, linguistic, and cultural diversity of the Indian subcontinent! We have come together to ensure that the great federal philosophy remains intact.
I stand in this Assembly that has laid the foundation for success in upholding social justice, legal justice, oppressed people’s rights, the greatness of Tamil ethnic community and its language. And I speak with the confidence that this Assembly can and will definitely eliminate the social injustice of NEET. Today, we are here in this Special Assembly to propose a policy of social justice in education for the entire country, having been trained in the footsteps of our leader Anna. To quench students’ passion for medical education, we have all come together to work in solidarity and promote social justice.
NEET is not a system established by the Constitution. It was not made a part of the Constitution. The Medical Council of India mandated the creation of NEET. When such an examination was proposed in 2010, Muthamizharinar Kalaignar, the then-Chief Minister of Tamil Nadu, vehemently opposed it.
It was also opposed by a number of Indian States. This examination has been challenged in 115 cases across India. Tamil Nadu is the State that is leading the charge in this direction. All of these cases were heard by the Supreme Court.
NEET was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court itself on July 18, 2013. The Chief Justice of India delivered the judgment. The exam was subsequently abolished across the Indian subcontinent.
However, after the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) won the election and formed the government, a private training institute reopened the issue. The Supreme Court heard the case of NEET. “Judgment is recalled” and “Hear this case afresh,” the Supreme Court said on May 24, 2016 after hearing the case. On this basis, the BJP-led Union government issued an ordinance on April 11, 2016, which quickly implemented NEET across the country.
Private training institutes benefit from NEET. The NEET Exemption Bill is being introduced for the benefit of those who cannot afford to pay so much for training. NEET is an impediment to the entitlement of poor and needy children to education. In their dream of becoming doctors, a barrier wall has been placed in the name of NEET. “You can’t be a doctor,” says NEET. “You don’t deserve it,” it says, halting one’s progress. That is why the NEET Exemption Bill has been introduced. I do not think I need to go into great detail about the abnormalities in that exam at this assembly.
So, to summarise, NEET is not a holy cow. It attempts to marginalise students from low-income families in the guise of merit. As a result, we oppose the examination and demand an exemption.
The question I would want to address in this forum is whether NEET, which has sent some students to the graveyard and others to jail, is really required. This is a question that has been raised by the entire student community as well as parents.
A detailed review
On June 19, 2021, a committee led by retired High Court judge A.K. Rajan was formed to investigate the issues and submit a report on the effects of NEET on poor and backward students. The public was consulted. On July 14, 2021, the Committee submitted a 193-page report to the Government based on those comments. They claimed that Government school students were unable to follow their dreams of pursuing a medical education.
I have formed a committee under the leadership of the Chief Secretary to provide detailed recommendations on this report. After careful consideration, the Bill exempting Tamil Nadu from NEET was enacted by this Assembly. We did a lot of study and were able to pass this Bill, supported with factual information.
The NEET Exemption Bill was passed with the support of all members of this House, with the exception of four BJP members. The Bill reflected not only the sentiments of Tamil Nadu as a whole, but also the Assembly’s notion of its sovereignty.
It had to be approved by the Hon’ble Governor, and he should have sent it to the Hon’ble President for his approval. Instead, he kept it pending for 142 days before reaching a decision — despite our numerous requests — and then returned it to us. In this Assembly, I must state unequivocally that the reasons he cited for rejecting the Bill were incorrect.
On June 10, 2021, the Justice A.K. Rajan Committee was set up under G.O. No.283, Department of Health and Family Welfare. The committee was made up of academics and government officials. The study’s terms of reference were also made public by this high-level group.
The public was asked to provide feedback to the committee. Hundreds of thousands of people had expressed their opinions to the Commission by email, mail, and petition boxes put in various locations.
According to the recommendation, NEET has limited the diversity of community representation in MBBS and higher medical courses by impeding the desire of those underprivileged of receiving medical education and favouring the socio-economically rich sections. The statistics for this can be found in the report as well. According to the survey, government schoolchildren, those whose parents’ annual income is less than ₹2.5 lakh, the backward (BC), the most backward (MBC), Scheduled Castes (SC), and Scheduled Tribes (ST) are the most affected.
The Governor criticised the study for claiming that NEET is “against merit”. It is worth noting that the report of the Justice A.K. Rajan committee includes proven facts rejecting this. Among those chosen so far, rural poor students have been affected. According to the research, those who studied in the Tamil medium in government schools are also harmed. At this point, I strongly advise that no one mistakenly counts those who benefit from the Government of Tamil Nadu’s 7.5% reservation as having profited from NEET.
The power to legislate
A five-judge Supreme Court Bench heard the matter of Modern Dental College vs Madhya Pradesh government . The Supreme Court verdict was clear: The State government has the power to legislate on student admissions to higher education institutions.
In a separate judgment delivered by Justice Banumathi in the same case, she also ruled that the law regulating student admission was within the jurisdiction of the State government. We passed the Bill against NEET solely using the legislative power of the State legislature.
The Governor has urged that NEET be made mandatory by the Constitution. According to the Constitution, any legal provision can be made, but only for the rights of the socially and economically disadvantaged. We are bringing this NEET Exemption Bill back on that basis. The Constitution is anti-discriminatory. However, NEET is inherently discriminatory. Social justice is emphasised in constitutional law. NEET, on the other hand, is opposed to social justice. The term “justice of the law” is used in constitutional law. But NEET favours the rich. The Indian Constitution is built on the principle of equality. NEET, on the other hand, is the polar opposite of equality. NEET is opposed to all of the Constitution’s fundamental rights. That is why we are requesting NEET exemption.
My pain stems from having to debate for so long about a dreadful exam that disproportionately impacts poor and rural students.
The return of this Bill has also put into doubt the right of our State of Tamil Nadu. This legislature’s sovereignty has been brought into question. The autonomy of States has been questioned. That is what concerns me. What will happen to the constitutionally mandated relationship between the Union and State governments? What are the rights and responsibilities of people of various races, languages, and cultures?
We passed a Bill on September 13, 2021 to exempt students from NEET based on the power we have. The Governor is required by law to reserve it to the President for approval. I expect the Governor to carry out his responsibilities correctly. That is the Governor’s responsibility, which is limited by the legislative power of the legislature, which is elected by the people.
I hope that the Governor will respect the sentiments of the people of Tamil Nadu and act in the best interests of the students of Tamil Nadu by sending the NEET Exemption Bill to the President without delay, which will be reconsidered and passed under the power conferred on the people elected by the Legislature by the Constitution. I urge everyone to support this Bill in order to defend the right to education, which has been denied for a long time, as well as the State rights of Tamil Nadu and the social rights of Scheduled Castes, tribals, backward/most backward/the oppressed/the poor/the marginalised/and rural peoples.
Hail Tamil Nadu!
M.K. Stalin is the Chief Minister ofTamil Nadu and President of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK). This article is an edited version of the Chief Minister’s speech