Deccan Herald Editorial: Flawed test

The quashing  by the Supreme Court of the idea of a National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for medical admissions in the country shows that the government had not thought through the legal, and even the practical  and procedural issues involved in it.   The proposal was to conduct a single national test for  admission to graduate and post-graduate medical courses in both private and government colleges. It was implemented in a hurry this year even when a number of state governments and medical institutions, some of whom are among the best in the country, were opposed to it.  Not only private colleges but prestigious government institutes like the AIIMS in Delhi and the PGI in Chandigarh also opted out of the scheme. The court had given only a conditional nod for the conduct of the test this year, making it clear that it had  reservations about its validity.  

There is a body of established judicial opinion in the country, expressed through many Supreme Court judgments in the past, that upholds the constitutional right to establish and administer educational institutions without interference from the state and government. This right covers the right to formulate an admission procedure also. Therefore an admission procedure evolved by the government and the Medical Council of India (MCI),  which was not acceptable to an educational  institution, would not pass legal muster. The MCI has been pushing the idea of a common test for many years.  The scheme of the test was finalised with the MCI as the agency to conduct it, without examining whether it had the authority under the MCI Act to do so. The court was categorical that it did not have that power.  Even if the government  gets the MCI Act amended or creates a body which is empowered to conduct the test, that will address only procedural issue raised by the court. The conflict between an idea sought to be imposed by the government and the constitutional right of educational institutions would still remain.

The court also felt that a common test  may not be desirable in the country which has different patterns of education and media of instruction in different states.  Admission norms based on the need to promote merit and reservations for disadvantaged groups exist. The government should ensure that these are followed correctly by managements at all levels. It is planning to seek a review of the judgment but may find it difficult to present a stronger case.

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