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Chief Minister M K Stalin’s speech during the special sitting of the Assembly on February 8 is a well-argued advocacy of the state’s stand on NEET. It invokes the political history of the Dravidian movement, its legislative history, as well as its commitment to social justice and state rights.

Even as the chief minister emphasized the state’s position, he lamented that Tamil Nadu’s case against NEET is either being ignored or is being refused to be heard. That may in essence be where the debate over NEET is. The two sides are talking past each other and not considering what each side is saying.

Chief Minister Stalin, while defending the AK Rajan committee report, says it was formulated after getting extensive feedback from the people. While the feedback was obtained for and against NEET, the retired judge’s views had already been formed. For instance, the judge had written against the 2016 Supreme Court vacation of the stay on NEET. The panel report’s outcome seemed predetermined since it did not go as extensively into commercialization of medical education as the Supreme Court did in allowing NEET and later in approving NEET.

While the Rajan report does talk about coaching center expenses as blowing a hole into the argument that NEET works against commercialization, the issues are much bigger. Rampant donation collection and unrestrained capitation fee collection that often completely subverted considerations of merit were the overriding factors cited by the Supreme Court in 2020. Neither the panel report nor the Dravidian parties take this head on, in full measure.

While the Rajan report does talk about coaching center expenses as blowing a hole into the argument that NEET works against commercialization, the issues are much bigger. Rampant donation collection and unrestrained capitation fee collection that often completely subverted considerations of merit were the overriding factors cited by the Supreme Court in 2020. Neither the panel report nor the Dravidian parties take this head on, in full measure.

The chief minister was indeed right in saying that the state law has little to do with the Supreme Court cases that led to approving NEET. Those judgments dealt with petitions arguing that NEET works against Constitutionally guaranteed minority rights in administering education institutions.

Stalin said the NEET exemption Bill is about state’s rights on education that is on the concurrent list of the Constitution. The original Supreme Court stay order on NEET in 2013 did say NEET infringed upon state rights. But since then, the Parliament has passed laws bringing NEET into force.

Stalin, erroneously though, cited Article 254 (1) of the Constitution. That Article says if any State passes a law that goes against Central law then Central law shall prevail. But Article 254 (2) says if any State passes such a law it can be sent to the President for approval after which that law shall prevail in that particular state.

Stalin said that under a separate section of the Constitution, the Governor was duty bound to sign the law that the Assembly has passed irrespective of his personal opinion. But the Governor does have the power to return the Bill for reconsideration once.

Speaking in the special assembly session, Stalin recalled that as early as 2011 former DMK president M Karunanidhi had opposed NEET when the Medical Council of India sought to implement it. At that time, the DMK was very much a part of the Central government although the portfolios of its ministers did not deal with education.

Stalin said the NEET exemption Bill is about state’s rights on education that is on the concurrent list of the Constitution. The original Supreme Court stay order on NEET in 2013 did say NEET infringed upon state rights. But since then, the Parliament has passed laws bringing NEET into force.

It was a feature of the DMK’s participation in the NDA and UPA governments in the Center that it did not seek, or at least did not hold ministerial portfolios relating to education, language, culture, arts, archeology and so on. It instead sought and controlled hard portfolios such as commerce, shipping, fertilizers, telecom and so on. The DMK’s politics often revolves around the first set of portfolios and by virtue of its position in the Union government it could have attempted to bring in changes in them, but it did not seek to.

In his speech, Stalin also listed the malpractices in NEET and asked how such a flawed test could be allowed to mar the prospects of poorer and socially backward students. But malpractices are reported in many exams, not just NEET.

He also talked about student suicides, especially that of Anitha in 2017. Every year, students commit suicide before exams or after results in Class 12. A google search will show this. The DMK has sought to play up NEET-related suicides and admittedly these suicides were directly caused by a feeling of rejection and an unfair thwarting of dreams of poor students studying in government schools.


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