DNA Editorial: NEET loss

The Supreme Court’s judgment quashing the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) has struck a body-blow to the Union government’s efforts to regulate education, especially medical education. Encouraged by the SC itself in 2010, the Medical Council of India (MCI) had introduced the common test for admission to all graduate and post-graduate courses to replace entrance tests conducted by state governments and private medical colleges. 

But in deciding that the MCI’s mandate was restricted to laying down standards and ensuring excellence in medical education but not conducting examinations, Justices Altamas Kabir and Vikramjit Sen opted for a narrow reading of the Indian Medical Council Act 1956.

The judges opined that NEET deprived government and private medical colleges, including minority institutions enjoying constitutional protection, of their right to admit students through their own procedures, beliefs and dispensations. 

But their view, sadly, did not consider the gross violation of transparent admission norms by most private managements. The demand for seats in medical courses has helped private institutions hedge up capitation fees, to astronomically high sums, when candidates are academically weak but financially sound. Minority institutions have opaque admission norms for quota seats whereby preference is given to management-sponsored candidates. 

Riding solely on merit, NEET aimed to reform this system but was undone by powerful vested interests who put up an array of legal luminaries to fight their case. Penning a strong dissenting note, Justice AR Dave aligned with the SC’s view in 2010 that spoke up for students forced to take multiple entrance tests in different states. Justice Dave rightly concluded that NEET would ensure that institutions would be served better as the best students would apply for admission.

“Except some institutions having some oblique motive behind selecting students who could not prove their mettle in the common examination, all educational institutes should feel happy to get a  suitable and eligible lot of students, without making any effort for selecting them,” his note, that went in vain, said.

Justice Dave’s views builds a strong case for the Centre and the MCI to move a review petition or amending the MCI Act to allow it to conduct exams. The NEET was not without problems. It had a distinct bias towards CBSE students and against state syllabus students. Perhaps, the best decision the SC could have taken was to let the NEET system work for a few years and analyse the socio-economic profiles of successful candidates based on the NEET rank-lists and the selection lists of institutions. However, the majority judgment has reaffirmed the importance of transparency in admissions and rural service by doctors. To undertake this task, the MCI must clean up its own house. Its functioning as a medical education regulator leaves much to be desired.

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