NEET not in national interest? Justice Rajan Committee recommends doing away with it

With BJP opposed to the TN Bill seeking exemption from NEET, Presidential assent to the Bill looks unlikely. But the Justice Rajan Committee report recommended doing away with NEET

Representative image
Representative image

Shalini Sahay

Is the National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) for government and private medical colleges detrimental to national interest? Justice AK Rajan (Rtd) committee report believes so and urged the TN government to take both legal and legislative routes to do away with NEET. Other states are now closely studying the report to decide on the next step.

In the name of ‘meritocracy’, says the report, what is being perpetuated is ‘hereditary aristrocracy’.

The committee questions the validity of NEET and argues that the Union Government cannot usurp the rights of the states. NEET is violative of the basic Constitutional and federal structure and has taken away the rights of the states. While states set up universities, medical colleges and hospitals, New Delhi cannot usurp the right of admission all over the country, it says.

While the mandatory entrance test has added an extra burden on students, there is no evidence that the objectives have been met, the committee comments. NEET, it says, has favoured CBSE students, affluent students, English medium schools, coaching institutes and malpractices.

The proxy racket busted by the CBI, which accused a Nagpur based education consultancy firm this week of charging parents Rs 50 lakhs each for arranging proxies to take the eligibility test on behalf of their wards, appears to vindicate the committee’s report.

Tamil Nadu Assembly last week passed a Bill to exempt the state from NEET and the Bill awaits Presidential assent. The assent seems unlikely though because although all parties supported the Bill, the Bharatiya Janata Party opposed it. Curiously, Narendra Modi as the Gujarat chief minister had opposed NEET but as Prime Minister paved the way to NEET after the Supreme Court in 2016 turned down the 2013 judgment that had struck down NEET. Several states including Gujarat, Andhra Pradesh, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh had opposed NEET. It became operational in 2017-18.

The report has set the cat among the pigeons with BJP unit in Tamil Nadu accusing the committee of being politically biased.

Justice Rajan explained that colleges and research institutes like AIIMS, PGI and JIPMER continue to conduct their own admission tests. So, while High School marks will become the basis for admission in Government medical colleges in Tamil Nadu, as and when the President gives his assent, those who wanted to attend premier institutions and deemed universities would be free to do so.

He maintained that Education was in the concurrent list and while the Union Government can set standards in consultation and coordination with states, it cannot usurp the right of the states to run universities. The Rajan Committee Report argues that since public health and hospitals are the responsibility of states, admission to medical colleges cannot be left to the Centre. NEET, the report claims, is against the basic structure of the Constitution and against federalism.

“India is not a uniform country,” says Justice Rajan scathingly. One cannot equate students from rural areas with students in the cities; or students from Uttar Pradesh with students in Tamil Nadu; or students in posh, private schools with students in government schools in rural areas.

The committee, set up in June this year, had invited public opinion. It received 86 thousand responses, 65 thousand of which opposed NEET and 18,000 wrote in favour.

NEET, the committee notes, has given rise to coaching institutes charging exorbitant rates. Unless students get coaching for a few years, which train them to answer 180 questions in three hours, they cannot crack NEET, the committee found. Most students cannot afford to pay for coaching and hence are getting left out. NEET has also given an unfair advantage to students from English medium schools and CBSE schools, edging out students from government schools and those who studied through the medium of Tamil.

With NEET prescribing no age restriction or the number of attempts one can make, the report says, the number of ‘repeaters’ in medical colleges has gone up sharply. There are also medical students who have been going for coaching since class VIII. Many of them chose to be coached for two to three years after passing out of school before appearing at NEET. The common eligibility test, says Justice Raman, has tried to make students into scoring machines. With students concentrating on NEET and coaching, learning in school, especially in science subjects, has taken a back seat, the committee alleged. What is more, the average age of medical students post-NEET is now higher. The committee in fact found a retired government servant studying in a medical college after cracking NEET.

A growing number of students in Tamil Nadu’s government medical colleges post-NEET are from other states, the committee points out. While these students would complete their medical education and return to their own states, Tamil Nadu will suffer from a shortage of doctors in the long run. With almost every district in Tamil Nadu now having a medical college, the idea was to ensure students living in the districts would get medical education and serve in those districts.

“But how many CBSE students, from affluent families and having studied in English medium schools, will be willing to serve in rural areas,” asks Justice Rajan, who believes that if NEET continues, Tamil Nadu would revert to its pre-independence days when medical graduates were scarce even in the city of Madras.

Similar apprehensions had been voiced by other states as well. Derek O’Brien of AITC had been quoted as saying that while public money is invested in setting up medical colleges by state governments, if students from other states are admitted in large numbers, it would be unfair to the people and tax payers.

Justice Rajan Committee also found that private medical colleges were charging fees ranging from Rs 30 lakhs to Rs. 1 crore or more. But when it came to admissions, private medical colleges had admitted students who had scored just 22 percent marks in NEET. What kind of meritocracy is this, the report wonders aloud.

The committee found no rationale behind the change from percentage to percentile in deciding merit of students who crack NEET. While earlier nobody securing marks below the cutoff mark could secure admission, post-NEET private medical colleges were found to have admitted even students securing 22% marks.

The Union Government, in response to a RTI application seeking details of how the merit list of NEET was changed from ‘percentage to percentile’ in January 2018, sent this reply in December, 2018:

“This is to inform you that since the file regarding change from percentage to percentile system is not traceable, hence the information/ documents cannot be provided”.

The National Testing Agency (NTA), the committee holds, has not been able to prevent unfair practices and impersonation. While some cases have been detected, the committee suspects that most cases remain undetected. It alleges that brokers and agencies have cropped up in many parts of the country, who for specified fees are undertaking proxies to take the exam.

Five years of its existence, the committee says, is long enough to evaluate the utility, validity and reliability of NEET. But neither CBSE not the NTA (National Testing Agency) has undertaken any serious study on the impact of the test compared to the earlier system.

It’s time for NEET to go, it concluded.

Why ‘No’ to NEET

  • Coaching factories have mushroomed since the advent of NEET in 2016. The alarming rise of such coaching factories, both offline and online, more than 400 of them generating around Rs. 5,750 Crore annually (in Tamil Nadu alone) indicates how the business has grown.

  • Out of 63,835 medical admissions a private coaching centre, Akash foundation, got 96% of admissions, which shows how a coaching centre and highly affluent society can influence medical admissions. Therefore, it is necessary to limit the number of attempts in NEET.

  • The percentage of repeaters, those taking the test repeatedly, has increased. Repeaters who secured admission in MBBS programme rose to 71.42% in 2020-21 from a meagre 12.47% in 2016-17.

  • Several state governments (Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra) and even the Indian Army have started offering coaching classes to underprivileged students, without which, they assume these students may not succeed in competitive exams like NEET. The Union Territory of Ladakh announced Rs. one lakh financial assistance to meritorious students to join private coaching centres to prepare for NEET, JEE, UG CLAT and NDA for two years.

  • Rich people can buy medical seats by paying Rs.25 lakh per annum in Deemed Universities even if they get low score and the total cost of the entire course would be around Rs 1 crore 50 lakh.

  • Girl students cannot afford to write the exam multiple times. Without giving equitable opportunities and improving education systems, conducting NEET will definitely increase the gap between rich and poor.

  • Answering 180 questions in 3 hours is possible only with proper training. The rural poor students, who cannot afford coaching, cannot do it properly.

  • NEET seems to have increased impersonation in the examination due to lack of a proper mechanism. Multiple cases of impersonation have been reported. Professional brokers are available for a fee, who arrange people to write the exam.

    (From Justice A.K. Rajan Committee Report. Figures pertain to Tamil Nadu)

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