In what may come as a jolt for the newfound bonhomie between Centre and Tamil Nadu after the AIADMK merger, the attorney general has, in his opinion to the health ministry on the state government’s ordinance exempting TN students from appearing in the common medical entrance examination, said that the ordinance is not good in law.
This is the second time that the ordinance that was sent by the Tamil Nadu government more than a week back to the home ministry, was referred to attorney general KK Venugopal.
Earlier when it had been referred by the law ministry the officer had approved it as being good as per the provisions of the Constitution of India. Subsequently, the ordinance was cleared by both the law and the HRD ministries.
However, when it came to the health ministry, it was referred back to the A-G with some additional facts and past judgements of the apex court on the issue. It was in response to these additional facts that the A-G has revised his opinion, say top government sources.
The National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for admission to all medical colleges in the country both government and private has seen a long legal battle since it was first attempted in 2013. The examination that year was stayed with a clutch of petitions in the Supreme Court from deemed universities, minority institutions and some state governments. It was finally started in 2016, much to the chagrin of states like Tamil Nadu.
Tamil Nadu has argued that the test favours CBSE students and those studying in state boards schools lose out because they have been used to admissions based on their class XII results. It is also discriminatory, the state has argued as students in districts far-flung from the capital and belonging to weaker sections, would tend to lose out.
NEET exemption has been a very sensitive topic in Tamil Nadu with former CM J Jayalalithaa having written multiple letters first to PM Manmohan Singh and then to PM Narendra Modi demanding that the state be treated separately.
In the present case, a team from the Tamil Nadu government had been camping in Delhi for the ordinance to be speedily cleared. It was widely expected to make the cut after Union ministers like Nirmala Sitharaman put their weight behind it. Health Minister J P Nadda also told the Rajya Sabha that Tamil Nadu’s concerns about NEET would be looked into.
On Monday soon after the AIADMK merger was announced prime minister Narendra Modi tweeted: “Centre assures all possible support to CM Thiru Edappadi K. Palaniswami & Dy CM Thiru O Panneerselvam for the growth of TN. @OfficeOfOPS”. That promise may have started off with a stumble given the A-G’s negative opinion on the ordinance that is very important for the state.
The health ministry’s contention on NEET is that if Tamil Nadu’s demand for exemption is acceded to, similar demands may flow for other states too thus causing this most important reform of medical education to collapse even as others are trying to emulate it; there is a common entrance for engineering courses too on the anvil. There are already reports of Gujarat examining the TN ordinance to seek similar treatment for students from Gujarati-medium schools.
Meanwhile, Tamil Nadu government has asked the Medical Council of India to sanction 2,700 more medical seats in the state in order to allay concerns of the Supreme Court about the fate of students from the state who have already cleared NEET. The demand is unlikely to be viewed favourably by the council as increasing seats is a function of many other factors including availability of faculty and infrastructure.