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Explained: Why Did Tamil Nadu Assembly Pass Bill Exempting the State from NEET?

Both AIADMK and DMK are on the same page when it comes to anti-NEET protests in the state.

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Explainers
5 min read
<div class="paragraphs"><p>On 13 September 202, the Tamil Nadu Under Graduate Medical College Degree Courses Bill-2021 was passed, with the support of all parties except the BJP.</p></div>
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Snapshot

Since 2017, Tamil Nadu has been trying to exempt itself from the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) exam. To this effect, in the past four years, the state has passed an ordinance and filed Public Interest Litigations (PILs) even as activists and students held protests widely. The state even tried to hold negotiations with the Union government over NEET exemption.

On Monday, 13 September, Tamil Nadu Chief Minister MK Stalin introduced a bill in the Legislative Assembly seeking permanent exemption from NEET.

On the same day, Tamil Nadu Under Graduate Medical College Degree Courses Bill-2021 was passed, with the support of all parties except the Bharatiya Janata Party.

NEET has always been a contentious issue in Tamil Nadu and for the last few years, students, parents, teachers, and political leaders have been protesting the medical entrance exam. Here's a look at why NEET is a problem in Tamil Nadu.

Explained: Why Did Tamil Nadu Assembly Pass Bill Exempting the State from NEET?

  1. 1. Anitha: The Symbol of TN’s NEET Protest

    Tamil Nadu did away with a state-level medical entrance exam more than a decade ago and students were allotted seats in medical and dental colleges on the basis of their performance in the Class XII board examinations.

    In 2017, NEET was made mandatory for admission.

    In August 2019, the TN government under All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) passed an ordinance exempting the state from NEET. However, the Supreme Court directed the government to stick to NEET and said that there could be no "compromise on intellect".

    In 2018, a 17-year-old medical aspirant Anitha died by suicide after months of protesting against NEET. The suicide was a watershed moment for NEET protests in Tamil Nadu, as an outpouring of mournful protests against the exam took over the state.

    Anita was a brilliant student who had scored 1,176 out of 1,200 in her Class 12 board exams, but could not clear NEET. The daughter of a daily wage labourer, she had challenged NEET in the Supreme Court, stating that the exam discriminated rural students like her.

    Expand
  2. 2. Did TN Find Out Whether Its Students Oppose NEET?

    In 2021, the number of students applying for NEET from Tamil Nadu dropped by 7 percent compared to the previous year.

    From 1,21,617 applicants for NEET-2020, the number came down to 1,12,617 for NEET-2021, according to National Testing Agency’s registration data. Experts say, the drop was caused by the delay in conducting the exam and upping of cut-off marks.

    The results of a public opinion survey in July 2021 on the topic, ‘Does Tamil Nadu require NEET?’ by Kalvi Pathukappu Kootamaippu (Education Protection Federation), revealed that almost 90 percent of respondents thought the state does not need the exam.


    Of the 42,834 people, including parents, teachers, and students, who participated in the poll 87.1 percent had said that TN students were adversely affected by NEET. In the same poll, 86.9 percent had vouched that competitive examinations drive students to suicide.

    Expand
  3. 3. How Did the State Cope With NEET for 4 Years?

    The staunch resistance to NEET originated from the plight of disadvantaged students from Tamil Nadu’s hinterlands, who have to compete with urban and affluent students across the country.

    A section of experts argue that students of TN did not fear the exam, but they lacked access to coaching classes that help candidates clear competitive examinations like NEET.

    Is the state board syllabus not at par with CBSE?

    In 2018, Tamil Nadu updated the state syllabus textbooks. An analysis of the NEET question paper showed that 97 percent of the questions in NEET-2020 were covered in the updated TN textbooks.

    Experts told The Quint that the problem lies in assessment and not the syllabus. They said the state board students are not trained to crack objective questions with negative marking. In state schools students are mostly tested for memory recall.

    How important are coaching classes to crack NEET?

    According to the Tamil Nadu government’s data, submitted to the Madras High Court in 2019, only 2.1 percent of students who got admission in medical colleges had not taken coaching classes. Out of this, only 1.5 percent entered into government medical colleges.

    Private coaching institutes charge anywhere between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 5 lakh for a year of NEET coaching. Tamil Nadu began offering free coaching to government and government-aided school students to prepare for NEET. In the academic year 2020-'21, more than 25,000 students had enrolled for this.

    Justice AK Rajan panel, that was constituted to study the impact of NEET on students, has noted that the turnover of all private coaching centres in Tamil Nadu shows that private coaching has become a "big business".

    How can an all-India entrance exam affect Tamil Nadu alone?

    It is important to understand that Tamil Nadu has one of the lowest school dropout rates and further enrols 44.3 percent of those who finish high school into higher educational institutes. That’s the highest Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education among all states in India. It is twice the national average and about ten percentage points more than the global average.

    Tamil Nadu’s decision to not admit students through entrance exams is a conscious policy choice, as the state aims to introduce maximum students into higher education. Politicians have argued that the exam could discourage many students from pursuing their dreams and, in turn, increase school dropout rate.

    Expand
  4. 4. The One Issue Dravidian Parties Agree Upon

    Since the time of Anitha's suicide, both All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) have been supporting exemption from NEET.

    In February, 2016, Former Chief Minister (Late) J Jayalalithaa wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi forewarning the Centre of Tamil Nadu’s opposition to NEET, dubbing it an infringement of federalism and an inegalitarian measure towards the students of Tamil Nadu who could not, given their academic training in the state, fare as well as students of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) on a national eligibility examination.


    In 2018, MK Stalin, who was the then Opposition leader said, "The cruelty of NEET had been explained by the death of Anitha, whose dream of becoming a doctor was killed and all her efforts over two years in higher secondary schooling allowed to go to waste." DMK's alliance partner, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi leader Thol Thirumavalavan had said, “Anitha’s death would be the beginning of a long struggle to bring an end to NEET, not only in Tamil Nadu but across the country”.

    There have been at least 14 student suicides in Tamil Nadu, in connection with NEET.
    Expand
  5. 5. DMK Fulfils Election Promise

    Since DMK assumed power in April 2021, the party had been accused of delaying exemption from NEET, a poll promise. The party buckled under pressure to introduce the bill.

    In doing so, the party has implemented the recommendation of Justice AK Rajan panel, which suggested "promulgation of an Act, similar to Tamil Nadu Act No 3/2007".


    The 2007 Act allowed admission to engineering, medicine, dental, agriculture, and other allied courses on the basis of performance in the qualifying Class 12 examination. The Act had received the President's assent.

    (At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

    Expand

Anitha: The Symbol of TN’s NEET Protest

Tamil Nadu did away with a state-level medical entrance exam more than a decade ago and students were allotted seats in medical and dental colleges on the basis of their performance in the Class XII board examinations.

In 2017, NEET was made mandatory for admission.

In August 2019, the TN government under All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) passed an ordinance exempting the state from NEET. However, the Supreme Court directed the government to stick to NEET and said that there could be no "compromise on intellect".

In 2018, a 17-year-old medical aspirant Anitha died by suicide after months of protesting against NEET. The suicide was a watershed moment for NEET protests in Tamil Nadu, as an outpouring of mournful protests against the exam took over the state.

Anita was a brilliant student who had scored 1,176 out of 1,200 in her Class 12 board exams, but could not clear NEET. The daughter of a daily wage labourer, she had challenged NEET in the Supreme Court, stating that the exam discriminated rural students like her.

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Did TN Find Out Whether Its Students Oppose NEET?

In 2021, the number of students applying for NEET from Tamil Nadu dropped by 7 percent compared to the previous year.

From 1,21,617 applicants for NEET-2020, the number came down to 1,12,617 for NEET-2021, according to National Testing Agency’s registration data. Experts say, the drop was caused by the delay in conducting the exam and upping of cut-off marks.

The results of a public opinion survey in July 2021 on the topic, ‘Does Tamil Nadu require NEET?’ by Kalvi Pathukappu Kootamaippu (Education Protection Federation), revealed that almost 90 percent of respondents thought the state does not need the exam.


Of the 42,834 people, including parents, teachers, and students, who participated in the poll 87.1 percent had said that TN students were adversely affected by NEET. In the same poll, 86.9 percent had vouched that competitive examinations drive students to suicide.

How Did the State Cope With NEET for 4 Years?

The staunch resistance to NEET originated from the plight of disadvantaged students from Tamil Nadu’s hinterlands, who have to compete with urban and affluent students across the country.

A section of experts argue that students of TN did not fear the exam, but they lacked access to coaching classes that help candidates clear competitive examinations like NEET.

Is the state board syllabus not at par with CBSE?

In 2018, Tamil Nadu updated the state syllabus textbooks. An analysis of the NEET question paper showed that 97 percent of the questions in NEET-2020 were covered in the updated TN textbooks.

Experts told The Quint that the problem lies in assessment and not the syllabus. They said the state board students are not trained to crack objective questions with negative marking. In state schools students are mostly tested for memory recall.

How important are coaching classes to crack NEET?

According to the Tamil Nadu government’s data, submitted to the Madras High Court in 2019, only 2.1 percent of students who got admission in medical colleges had not taken coaching classes. Out of this, only 1.5 percent entered into government medical colleges.

Private coaching institutes charge anywhere between Rs 1 lakh and Rs 5 lakh for a year of NEET coaching. Tamil Nadu began offering free coaching to government and government-aided school students to prepare for NEET. In the academic year 2020-'21, more than 25,000 students had enrolled for this.

Justice AK Rajan panel, that was constituted to study the impact of NEET on students, has noted that the turnover of all private coaching centres in Tamil Nadu shows that private coaching has become a "big business".

How can an all-India entrance exam affect Tamil Nadu alone?

It is important to understand that Tamil Nadu has one of the lowest school dropout rates and further enrols 44.3 percent of those who finish high school into higher educational institutes. That’s the highest Gross Enrolment Ratio (GER) in higher education among all states in India. It is twice the national average and about ten percentage points more than the global average.

Tamil Nadu’s decision to not admit students through entrance exams is a conscious policy choice, as the state aims to introduce maximum students into higher education. Politicians have argued that the exam could discourage many students from pursuing their dreams and, in turn, increase school dropout rate.

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The One Issue Dravidian Parties Agree Upon

Since the time of Anitha's suicide, both All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) and Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) have been supporting exemption from NEET.

In February, 2016, Former Chief Minister (Late) J Jayalalithaa wrote to Prime Minister Narendra Modi forewarning the Centre of Tamil Nadu’s opposition to NEET, dubbing it an infringement of federalism and an inegalitarian measure towards the students of Tamil Nadu who could not, given their academic training in the state, fare as well as students of the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) on a national eligibility examination.


In 2018, MK Stalin, who was the then Opposition leader said, "The cruelty of NEET had been explained by the death of Anitha, whose dream of becoming a doctor was killed and all her efforts over two years in higher secondary schooling allowed to go to waste." DMK's alliance partner, Viduthalai Chiruthaigal Katchi leader Thol Thirumavalavan had said, “Anitha’s death would be the beginning of a long struggle to bring an end to NEET, not only in Tamil Nadu but across the country”.

There have been at least 14 student suicides in Tamil Nadu, in connection with NEET.

DMK Fulfils Election Promise

Since DMK assumed power in April 2021, the party had been accused of delaying exemption from NEET, a poll promise. The party buckled under pressure to introduce the bill.

In doing so, the party has implemented the recommendation of Justice AK Rajan panel, which suggested "promulgation of an Act, similar to Tamil Nadu Act No 3/2007".


The 2007 Act allowed admission to engineering, medicine, dental, agriculture, and other allied courses on the basis of performance in the qualifying Class 12 examination. The Act had received the President's assent.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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