NEET is not the panacea it is drummed to be
Guest article by Dr Gurunath Parale
During the course of the hearing on President’s rule in the state of Uttarakhand, the honourable high court suggested recently that the President of India is not God, because he too can commit a mistake. However, yet another recent judgment by the honourable Supreme Court of India makes us wonder if the Supreme Court is in fact, God.
National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) – A single entrance test conducted all over India for admission to MBBS courses in government-run medical colleges, private colleges, deemed universities and minority institutions — is no doubt a welcome step. It is a huge relief to thousands of aspiring doctors and anxious parents who were earlier made to run all over the country in order to appear for the entrance tests conducted separately by different medical schools. This process imposed a massive financial burden on the parents apart from causing enormous anxiety.
So, when the Medical Council of India (MCI) put forth the proposal before the Supreme Court, student and parents were sure that NEET would be implemented.
But, after months of deliberations involving different stake-holders like private colleges, minority institutes and different state governments, a three-judge bench of the SC declared in July 2013, that the MCI cannot hold NEET, dashing the hopes of hapless students. This was a judgment mired in controversy because it was delivered on the very day the honourable Chief Justice Altamas Kabir retired.
The headline in a leading English daily the next day said it all:Last judgment of Hon CJ Kabir is a boon for private medical colleges
In addition, the fact that a senior advocate had predicted this judgment in advance added to the controversy. Since it was a Supreme Court judgment, the poor students accepted it; they simply did not have any option. They continued criss-crossing the country in pursuit of a coveted medical seat in the college of their choice.
However, just when the dust was settling down, the Supreme Court suddenly revoked its own earlier verdict in April 2016. The reason given for this sudden U-turn was that the concerned judges did not get enough time to consult among themselves prior to the delivery of their judgment in 2013. The judgment in 2013 was delivered after many months of hearing during which thousands of concerned students and their anxious parents waited for the verdict with bated breath.
In the meantime, the number of postgraduate medical students in government-run and private medical colleges dwindled — resulting in a further strain on the already overstretched and impoverished healthcare system in the country.
This argument — lack of time for consultation — if offered by other professionals, doctors for instance, would amount to criminal negligence in the eyes of law. I am sure no court of law will accept as a valid reason if a doctor argues that he made a wrong diagnosis leading to wrong treatment because he could not find adequate time to deliberate and consult fellow doctors. But, if a bench of Supreme Court judges says that it could not get sufficient time for deliberations, the ordinary citizens have no option but to accept and move on.
The honorable Supreme Court not only revoked its earlier judgment, but in surprising haste, ordered for the immediate conduction of NEET in the current academic year itself.
If the 2013 judgement was a mistake (by the judges' own admission), the April 2016 judgement is a blunder.
After burning the midnight oil for two long and gruelling years, the students are being told that this examination is of no use when it comes to admission to a medical college. Now, they have to prepare for a new ordeal involving another three months of hard work and appear for yet another unfamiliar examination. For many students in states like Maharashtra, the new examination system (NEET) means studying a new syllabus (CBSE) rather the state board syllabus that they have studied for the past two years.
These students face the uphill task of preparing for the new examination in just over a couple of months. For these students, it's not only the syllabus (CBSE) that is new, but even the pattern of the examination is different. For instance, the system of negative marking is entirely unfamiliar terrain for them. Again, since it is a Supreme Court verdict, what option do these hapless students have other than accepting it and doing their best?
In states like Tamil Nadu, the system of Multiple Choice Questions (MCQ) is simply non-existent. For them, admission to a medical college depends entirely on their performance in their Class XII examination.
But they have to accept NEET because it is a Supreme Court verdict.
Many students all over India study and write their answers in their vernacular languages. One can only imagine their anguish because NEET is going to be in either English or Hindi.
Even they have to accept NEET because it is a Supreme Court verdict.
Besides, diiferent states have spent months of preparation utilising huge manpower and money to conduct their individual entrance exams. While some are over, as in Andhra Pradesh (30 April), some are just around the corner as in Maharashtra (5 May). With the single stroke of a pen, years of students’ hard work, aspirations, and months of preparation of different states, are under threat of going down the drain.
There is another important but perhaps not well-thought out aspect to NEET.
Since the honourable court has ordered the examination (NEET) in July, there is very little time left for the examination board to get its act together. What if some students don’t get their admit-cards on time? What if some others don’t find their names in the candidates’ list? I shudder to imagine that scenario.
I wonder, by implementing the NEET in such a tearing hurry, what the honourable court has achieved and to whom justice has been done. This NEET was meant to benefit the aspirants to a degree in medicine and relieve their anxiety. Has it been achieved this year?
If the intention of the honourable Supreme Court was to rein in the errant private medical colleges and deemed universities, it could have simply ordered them to admit students taking into consideration the marks obtained in their respective state-board examinations or their performance in the existing All India Pre-Medical Test (AIPMT). Alternatively, the court could have directed the Central government to conduct a single examination all over India but only after sufficient advance notice.
Recently, the honourable Chief Justice of India became emotional and even shed a few tears while asking the prime minister to increase the number of judges in high courts and the Supreme Court.
Now that thousands of aspirants to a degree in medicine are staring at a probable disaster in their career due to a hastily-ordered examination, I hope a similar type of sensitivity will be on display while reviewing the latest judgment.
The judiciary must remember that after being let down completely by the political class, the entire citizenry and particularly the youth of this country looks up to it as the last beacon of hope. We can only hope and pray that the judiciary will not fail us — the hapless students and harassed parents — this time around.
The President of India may not be God but we consider the Indian judiciary almost next to God and hope it will right the wrongs during its next hearing.
Dr Gurunath Parale is a senior cardiologist and a helpless parent