The Supreme Court of India has dismissed a petition challenging the DMK’s ongoing signature campaign in Tamil Nadu, which seeks to abolish the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for admissions to medical colleges across the country. The bench, consisting of Justices Surya Kant and KV Viswanathan, underscored the importance of conducting competitive exams on a national scale.
Addressing concerns related to potential emotional distress for children, Justice Kant acknowledged the heightened awareness among the younger generation. He pointed out that today’s youth comprehend motives, agendas, and processes, surpassing the understanding of the previous generation. Justice Kant remarked, “Fortunately, now we have a very informed generation. Our children are not so innocent, and now they understand everything. They are far ahead of our generation… They understand everything—what is the motive, what is the agenda, how it happens.”
Shameful. #DMK Virugambakkam MLA @PrabhakarRaja88 forcefully obtains Anti-#NEET signatures from #Chennai Govt. School students while School HM is fully complicit. @Udhaystalin should be ashamed to pollute minds of children for your petty, cheap politics!pic.twitter.com/ChYDWPclir
— Dr.SG Suryah (@SuryahSG) October 25, 2023
Advocate ML Ravi, who initially approached the Madras High Court in November 2023 opposing the ongoing signature campaign by the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) in Tamil Nadu against the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET), withdrew his petition before the High Court. This decision came after the High Court bench showed an inclination to dismiss the petition with costs. Subsequently, Advocate ML Ravi moved the Supreme Court with the same plea.
The Public Interest Litigation (PIL) petitioner in the Supreme Court argued that NEET is an established examination, and a minister’s protest against it is not appropriate. The plea further contended that the ruling party in the State was engaging in political activities in schools without parental consent, potentially adversely affecting students’ motivation to prepare for entrance exams.
According to Bar and Bench reports, the State argued that NEET violates federalism by stripping states of the power to admit students to government seats in medical colleges. Additionally, the original suit claimed that the NEET exam violates the right to equality under Article 14 of the Constitution. It was argued that NEET has disproportionately affected students in Tamil Nadu, particularly those from rural areas and students in state-board-affiliated schools who cannot afford entrance coaching centres.
The controversy surrounding NEET intensified in October when Tamil Nadu’s Sports and Youth Welfare Minister Udhayanidhi Stalin launched the DMK’s signature campaign, titled ‘NEET Vilaku, Naam Ilakku’ (NEET Abolition, Our Goal). The campaign aimed to collect 50 lakh signatures within 50 days against NEET. Udhayanidhi and Chief Minister Stalin recorded their signatures, initiating the campaign. There were reported instances of DMK functionaries entering government schools and allegedly compelling innocent students to sign the campaign. The campaign asserts the compulsory nature of NEET, sparking a contentious debate on its impact on the state’s educational landscape.
DMK) Virugambakkam constituency MLA Prabhakar Raja along with his supporters, allegedly barged into a government girls school in Chennai’s MGR Nagar and collected signatures from students for the party’s Anti-NEET campaign. Nettisons strongly reacted to this campaign of forcefully obtaining signatures from high school students.
I have so many questions about this.
1. How can political parties enter schools classrooms at will?
2. How can they force students (mostly minors) to sign up for something?
3. How are these fellows allowed to interact individually with students throwing aside safety concerns ? https://t.co/7FgKZE7UWc
— Saikiran Kannan | 赛基兰坎南 (@saikirankannan) October 25, 2023
In a recent development, a video shared on social media reveals the headmaster of a school addressing students, introducing the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (DMK) anti-National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) campaign. Expressing concerns about the impact of the NEET exam on students’ medical aspirations due to curriculum disparities, the headmaster underscores the DMK government’s consistent efforts to abolish NEET. He highlights public statements made by Chief Minister MK Stalin, School Education Minister, and Minister Udhayanidhi Stalin against the exam.
MLA Prabhakar Raja takes the stage to reiterate the DMK’s stance, asserting that entrance exams like NEET should be abolished. He engages with students, acknowledging the commerce-focused curriculum’s limitations, which doesn’t cover subjects required for NEET.
Leading up to the 2021 assembly polls, the DMK’s primary political focus was securing an exemption from NEET for Tamil Nadu students. Prominent party figures, including Udhayanidhi Stalin, made promises to voters, vowing decisive action. Udhayanidhi even invited former AIADMK CM Edapadi K Palaniswamy and others to join the campaign, appealing to their concern for students’ interests. Interestingly, the DMK, formerly part of the UPA II government that introduced the NEET legislation, now takes a contrasting view, blaming the BJP and causing confusion among students.
Upon assuming power, the NEET issue became contentious, sparking debates among opposition parties, concerned parents, student organisations, and academia. The Justice AK Rajan committee, established by the DMK government, strongly recommended eliminating the qualifying exam, claiming NEET would regress the state’s medical education to pre-independence days. The committee suggested the state pass an Act emphasising the necessity of removing NEET for medical education, awaiting the President’s assent. The bill, passed twice, is currently pending with the President of India.
On January 2, the Supreme Court decided that the Tamil Nadu government should take steps to prevent activities in schools discouraging the importance of the national NEET exam. The court reiterated that it is mandatory to conduct the NEET exam.
Tamil Nadu’s DMK and its allies have long opposed NEET. However, the state achieved its highest-ever tally in the top 50 positions of the exam, producing the country’s topper and ranking as the state with the third-highest number of achievers. This is a significant shift from five years ago when the state had no representation in the top ranks. Students are now earnestly preparing for the test with their parents’ full support, challenging the DMK’s claims of being anti-Tamil and anti-poor.
In August, Governor RN Ravi firmly stated his refusal to give consent for the bill passed by the State Assembly to abolish NEET. He argued that NEET had helped students from lower strata of society realise their dream of joining medical colleges. The complex dynamics surrounding NEET in Tamil Nadu continue to fuel debates and political tensions, with the state government and the judiciary playing pivotal roles in shaping the future of medical admissions.
Recent data reveals a notable decrease in the number of government school students participating in the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET), with 12,997 students in 2023 compared to 14,979 in 2022, marking a 13 per cent decline. Despite this dip, a positive trend emerges when considering data from the past six years, where the average participation between 2018 and 2021 was around 6,000 students. The percentage of government school students qualifying for the exam has seen an upward trajectory, rising from 22.1 per cent in 2018 to 30.6 per cent in 2023.
Government school students accounted for approximately 45 per cent of the total Class XII examinees in the last two years, notably in 2023, where out of 8,03,385 students, 46.2 per cent were from government schools. In contrast, aided and private schools contributed the remaining students. In the NEET exam, 30.4 per cent of the 4,32,231 aided and private school students participated, while only 3.5 per cent of the 3,71,154 government school students took the test.
Despite Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam’s (DMK) pursuit of signatures against NEET through its campaign, political observers suggest that even if successful, the petition is likely to be presented to the President of India, who may keep it in cold storage. Observers argue that the DMK’s efforts may be futile, considering the Supreme Court’s approval of NEET, followed by its implementation across all states. The Supreme Court’s verdict is viewed as a substantial victory for economically disadvantaged but meritorious students in Tamil Nadu and beyond.
Critics assert that the DMK’s campaign, aimed at securing an exemption from NEET, may jeopardise students’ futures, given the legal framework and the widespread adoption of NEET in educational systems nationwide. The data underscores the changing landscape of NEET participation among government school students, revealing both challenges and successes in their engagement with the competitive medical entrance examination.