Resolving the NEET conundrum

The ordinance granting a year’s exemption to State government institutions from NEET, the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test, provides timely relief to lakhs of students. There was confusion, and anxiety, after the Supreme Court suddenly decided that the test should be the sole basis for medical and dental college admissions from this year onwards. Several State governments objected to NEET, arguing that its implementation would denude them of the power to regulate admission to institutions run by them, as well as to private institutions within their jurisdiction. Some States have their own legislation governing admission and had strong objections to the prescriptive approach underlying NEET. The Centre clearly had no option after the State governments brought pressure on it. The exemption is, however, limited to undergraduate courses of State government institutions. Admission to postgraduate courses and all courses in private medical and dental colleges will still be under NEET. And from next year, NEET will be the sole national test to decide a candidate’s admission to any medical or dental course. The regulations that introduced NEET were struck down by a Supreme Court Bench in 2013 by a 2:1 majority. The dissenting judge, Justice A.R. Dave, now heads the Bench hearing the review petition against that judgment. The 2013 verdict has been recalled, but the review plea is yet to be disposed of. The Bench is keen on enforcing NEET immediately.
A common national test for professional courses is faultless, in principle. In this connection, it will address the problem of private institutions selling medical courses at astronomical prices to candidates who may lack aptitude. Yet, it is important that the ground is properly prepared before the implementation of a common test. State governments have to be convinced that their socio-economic priorities will not be affected by centralised regulation of admissions, and that regional disparities in syllabi and linguistic differences will be adequately resolved. There is also a larger legal issue since there are Supreme Court judgments that have underlined the unfettered right of unaided, minority institutions to regulate their own admissions processes, subject to their being fair, transparent and non-exploitative. These contradictions need to be ironed out, and it would have been far better had the court allowed the political executive to assess the feasibility of having a common national test this year instead of ruling on what is essentially an executive decision. A perfect pan-Indian medical admission system needs to be carefully crafted in the present environment, not rammed home by judicial fiat.

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