The Supreme Court on Monday recalled its 2013 verdict quashing a Medical Council of India (MCI) notification mandating a common National Entrance-cum-Eligibility Test (NEET) both for undergraduate and postgraduate medical and dental courses in government and private institutions.
What does that mean?
This means that no college, including more than 600 privately-run and minority medical institutions, will be allowed to conduct its own entrance examination in order to select students.
To understand the nature of the controversy, we need to go back to 2013. Till that year, the MCI would conduct an entrance test called NEET. Admission would be determined on the basis of the marks students scored in this test.
However, in 2013, a group of institutions, including the Christian Medical College in Vellore, moved the Supreme Court, contending that having a common entrance test violated the rights of minority institutions “to establish and administer educational institutions of their choice, as guaranteed under Article 30 of the Constitution”. The hearing in the case, resulted in the Supreme Court quashing a notification by the MCI for the upcoming NEET.
The three-member bench that delivered the judgement on 18 July, 2013 consisted of the then Chief Justice Altamas Kabir, Justice Vikramajit Sen (both now retired) and Justice Anil Dave. The majority judgment had been in favour of the CMC, but Justice Dave had differed from the majority view.
Pronouncing the majority judgment, the then Chief Justice Kabir said: "We also have no hesitation in holding that the Medical Council of India is not empowered under the 1956 Act to actually conduct the NEET" and introducing it was beyond its domain as the 'Regulations on Graduate Medical Education (Amendment) 2010 (Part II)' and the 'Post Graduate Medical Education (Amendment) Regulation, 2010 (Part II)' were ultra vires of the provisions of articles 19(1)(g), 25, 26(a), 29(1) and 30(1) of the Constitution.
The majority judgment questioned the practical aspect of holding a single NEET as "in a single window competition, the disparity in educational standards in different parts of the country cannot ensure a level playing field".
On the other hand, Justice Dave in his dissenting minority judgment had held "it cannot be said that introduction of the NEET would either violate any of the fundamental or legal rights of the petitioners or even adversely affect the medical profession".
"In my opinion, introduction of the NEET would ensure more transparency and less hardship to the students eager to join the medical profession," he said, wondering how the autonomy of the said institutions would be adversely affected because of the NEET.
Justice Dave was the seniormost member of the Constitution bench which recalled the Supreme Court's earlier order on 11 April, 2016. Other members of the bench are Justice AK Sikri, Justice RK Agrawal, Justice Adarsh Kumar Goel and Justice R Banumathi. The bench made its decision on the basis of a petition filed by the MCI and AP Private Medical and Dental Colleges.
The Indian Express reports that the bench stated that it has agreed to review the 2013 order because at the time, the two judges who were against the NEET did not consider “some binding precedents” and that the 2013 bench did not discuss the issue before pronouncing the judgement. This was the same point that Justice Dave had made in 2013 while expressing his dissent.
“As the learned Chief Justice is to retire within a few days, I have to be quick and therefore, also short. Prior to preparation of our draft judgments we had no discussion on the subject due to paucity of time…,” he wrote in 2013.
The bench also took note of another point made by Additional Solicitor General Pinky Anand. The ASG, appearing for the Central Government, argued that the 2013 order needs to be reviewed as the 2013 petition had been heard by a three-judge bench whereas earlier, a similar matter had been heard by a five-judge bench, according to The Indian Express.
Reactions to the verdict
The Tamil Nadu state government is against the NEET. It admits students for its quota seats in medical colleges on the basis of marks scored in Std XII exams, reports The New Indian Express. The government believes that those students who have studied in the Tamil medium may find it difficult to answer the NEET papers in English. The government is also of the opinion that NEET is disadvantageous to students from rural areas who don’t have access to coaching centres, according to The Times Of India.
Is Tamil Nadu the only state against NEET?
No. Andhra Pradesh is also against the NEET. According to The Hindu, students in the southern state believe that it is unfair competition since the NEET is in accordance with the CBSE syllabus and students from other state boards will be at a disadvantage. Also, the NEET needs to be answered in either English or Hindi, which puts students who studied in the Telugu medium at a disadvantage.
So what’s the final word?
That’s yet to be spoken. While the SC quashed the 2013 order, agreed it needs to be reviewed and stated clearly that the NEET can be held this academic year, it has directed that the matters on this issue should be heard afresh. Meanwhile, the MCI vice-chairman Dr C V Bhirmanandham told The Times Of India that the council will not be able to conduct the NEET this year. There just isn’t enough time for students to prepare for the test and the council still has to discuss the developments with states that are against the NEET, he said.
With inputs from IANS