Under Article 200 of the Indian Constitution, the Governor of a state has the power to withhold assent for a bill which has been passed by the Legislative Assembly of the state. The Governor of Tamil Nadu Mr. RN Ravi exercised this right for returning a Bill seeking Tamil Nadu’s exemption from National Entrance cum Eligibility Test (NEET) which is a national level test for determining eligible students to take admission in for admission to undergraduate courses in medicine. This event was unprecedented and never happened in the history of Tamil Nadu government.
Sequence of Events
2010 - NEET was proposed by Medical Council of India (MCI) as a single entrance examination for MBBS and BDS courses pan India.
2011 - The State Government of Tamil Nadu wrote several letters to the centre alleging that
NEET was an infringement on the state’s autonomy. Since medical education falls under the Concurrent List (List 3, Seventh Schedule, clause 25) both the Centre as well as the state have the authority to amend policies relevant to medical education.
2012 - The Central Government made NEET compulsory for admission into any medical college of India. This led to an immediate protest from states, especially from Tamil Nadu, who alleged a severe infringement of the state’s rights. Despite Tamil Nadu’s repeated attempts, the pleas were rejected by the Courts.
2017 – Tamil Nadu holds NEET.
2018 - A 17 year old medical aspirant committed suicide after months of protest against NEET. This led to the state government passing an ordinance against NEET, but Supreme Court directed it to implement NEET just like every other state of India.
2021 Apr – Government of Tamil Nadu formed a committee under retired Justice AK Rajan of the Madras High Court to analyse the impact of implementing NEET in the state. In his report, he suggested immediate scrapping of NEET since it was a major disadvantage to the students from the weaker sections.
2021 Sep - The Tamil Nadu Government passed a Bill in the Legislative Assembly seeking exclusion from NEET permanently. In an unprecedented and controversial move, the Governor of Tamil Nadu did not confirm, but instead returned this Bill.
2022 Feb - The Tamil Nadu government through a special assembly session on 8th February re-sent the Bill to the Governor.
State Government’s View
The State alleged that NEET deprived students from financially backward and rural communities the opportunity to become doctors. It also opined that NEET was practicing modern-day untouchability by discriminating between wealthy and poor students and has taken away several lives in the form of suicides because NEET was not providing a level playing field. Furthermore, several irregularities were also found. Before NEET, about ninety per cent of state board students got medical admission, but got severely declined after NEET was enforced.
Students who could afford private coaching centres were the ones cracking NEET, which simply meant that those who had disposable wealth for students, got priority treatment and those lacking funds were discriminated. Hence NEET was considered discriminatory. In addition, the State Government also questioned Governor Ravi's rejection of the Bill, calling it "a shame on federalism" and an "attack on the autonomy of the State". Rights of the state were being challenged, emphasizing the moral duty of the Governor to highlight bills that disagree with central government laws.
Governor RN Ravi returned the anti NEET Bill seeking exemption from NEET for Tamil Nadu since he felt the report of the AK Rajan Committee, which formed the foundation of the
Bill, lacked substantiation. The ‘sweeping assumptions’ of the committee had comments like NEET being directionless and against merit; empowering comparatively poorly skilled candidates who were financially and socially strong thereby making the medical profession being outweighed by low quality professionals. Furthermore, NEET discouraged complex thinking and higher order of skilling compared to the State board examinations.
While exercising Article 200 of the Constitution by returning the Bill for reconsideration, the Governor asked why was Tamil Nadu against a national level exam which has been accepted and adopted by all the states in India, and moreover, when NEET has been ratified by both the High Court as well as the Supreme Court to be flawless and in the national interest. In addition, NEET was also in complete accordance with Articles 46 & 47 of the Constitution concerning marginalised communities.
Since the matter is still inconclusive and both the Central Government and the State Government are at loggerheads, it would be premature to say what the next step would be from the centre after a forced approval from the state governor has been obtained. However, the Supreme Court and High Court have clarified their stance in the matter a number of times aligning heavily towards the centre, certifying NEET to be fair, competitive , fit for purpose and for the greater good of India as a society.
This article is written by Rakesh Behera of Sambalpur University.