It is a matter of immense relief for students and education administrators that the Supreme Court decided not to stay the Centre’s ordinance granting aone-year exemption to State government institutions from the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for medical courses. The Bench wisely refrained from suspending it, though its displeasure was obvious. With lakhs of students preparing to sit for NEET-2 on July 24, it obviously did not want to cause chaos. The court found the ordinance disturbing and lacking in taste, and hinted that its legality was open to doubt. However, it is difficult to blame the Centre for resorting to the ordinance, which is aimed at resolving practical difficulties faced by many State governments in changing their admission policy at short notice. It was only in April that a five-judgeBench recalled its 2013 verdict striking down the regulations by which NEET was sought to be introduced. Both state-run and aided or unaided private institutions were not covered by a common eligibility or entrance test in the past few years. The court’s decision to reinstate NEET and declare that it would be the sole means of admission from the current academic year itself came as a stunning blow to both the authorities and students. Thanks to the ordinance, this year’s MBBS admission is out of the way.
However, the fundamental question remains open: do we need a national-level common test, and if so, should it cover all institutions, government and private, aided or unaided and run by minorities or otherwise? NEET may be the answer to issues such as the need for an admission process that is “fair, transparent and non-exploitative” — the triple test laid down by the Supreme Court — and to curb the commercialisation of medical education. It may also provide a national pool of eligible students from which government and other institutions could choose students in the order of merit on the basis of their reservation scheme or any other extant policy. However, the courts cannot be impervious to the other side. Aspirants belong to different States, speak different languages and come from diverse socio-economic backgrounds. Any common system that is introduced must be practical and feasible. It should not be hastily thrust on unwilling or unprepared sections of society without due deliberation. The Bench that recalled the earlier verdict should hear the entire matter soon and pass a reasoned final judgment before the next academic year, spelling out the ingredients for a common test that will impinge neither on the priorities of States nor the rights of minority institutions.
Keywords: NEET, medical entrance exams, National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test, Supreme Court
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