‘NEET Against Rural Poor’: Four Letters by Jayalalithaa to Centre

Could strong leadership have helped TN prevail over the Centre?

4 min read

All-India medical entrance examination was an issue that late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa had fought tooth and nail against.

Over the last few months, there have been multiple photographs of Tamil Nadu Chief Minister Edappadi Palaniswami handing over a bouquet of roses to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as they discussed pressing matters such as NEET.

Deputy Chief Minister O Panneerselvam has also had several one-on-one meetings with the prime minister seeking exemption for Tamil Nadu from NEET. Despite the pressure exerted, it was the Centre’s change of heart over endorsing Tamil Nadu’s draft ordinance that led to the Supreme Court ordering that medical admissions be based on NEET scores.

The suicide of 17-year-old Anitha, a Dalit student from Ariyalur who fought against NEET at the Supreme Court, has triggered protests across Tamil Nadu. Besides announcing a compensation of Rs 7 lakh to Anitha’s family, the Edappadi Palaniswami-led government has largely remained a mute spectator to the events that have unfolded since the medical aspirant’s death, choosing instead to focus on the in-fighting brewing inside the party.

The question many are now asking is – could stronger and decisive leadership have helped Tamil Nadu’s case for NEET exemption? After all, an all-India medical entrance examination was an issue that late Chief Minister J Jayalalithaa had fought tooth and nail against during her tenure. Since her return to power in 2011, the AIADMK leader had on multiple occasions written to the Centre, conveying Tamil Nadu’s opposition to NEET.

TNM takes a look at some of the letters written by the late CM, reiterating the state’s strong objection to the implementation of NEET.

July 2013: National Test out of Tune With the Prevailing Socio-Economic Milieu

On 28 July 2013, Jayalalithaa wrote to the then PM Manmohan Singh ten days after the Supreme Court quashed the Medical Council of India’s notification for holding NEET for MBBS, BDS and postgraduate medical courses, and called it ultra vires to the Constitution.

“This has finally brought to an end a long pending and vexatious issue relating to a policy by which students aspiring for Medical and Dental seats at the Undergraduate and Post Graduate levels had to go through the agony of an uncertain selection process which militated against their interest and the interests of the State of Tamil Nadu,” wrote Jayalalithaa following the SC verdict.

But the reason she was writing to the PM was because the then Union Health Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad had hinted that the Centre would move the apex court for a review.

Objecting to the Centre’s move, Jayalalithaa then wrote that it had again created a lot of confusion among the students of TN and said that the state strongly objects to any such fresh attempts by the Centre.

... it infringes upon the state’s rights and admission policies to medical institutions in Tamil Nadu.

Emphasising the state’s objections to NEET, Jayalalithaa pointed out that common entrance examinations put rural students at a “great disadvantage” because they lacked resources to enrol at coaching centres and access material available to urban students. She also explained that the state has followed a reservation policy of 69 percent for backward and most backward communities, and scheduled caste and tribes in professional courses.

Arguing that NEET would go against Tamil Nadu’s socio-economic objectives, she urged then PM Manmohan Singh to drop the review petition.

The introduction of NEET would confound the implementation of these policy initiatives and socio-economic objectives of the State, since we would have to fall in line with the regulations of the national test, which did not have such enabling provisions. The national test would be out of tune with the prevailing socio-economic milieu and administrative requirements of Tamil Nadu. The reported move of the Union Health Minister in seeking to file a review petition before the Supreme Court of India to reintroduce NEET should be immediately dropped. The Government of India should accept the decision of the Hon’ble Supreme Court without seeking a review.

June 2014: Withdraw Review Petition, Abide by SC

The following year, after the BJP swept to power at the Centre, Jayalalithaa presented Prime Minister Narendra Modi a memorandum, with the state’s wish-list. One of the issues covered in the June 2014 memorandum was NEET. Quickly summarising Tamil Nadu’s objections to the common entrance examination, Jayalalithaa urged PM Modi “to review the stand taken by the UPA government and withdraw the review petition and abide by the decision of the Hon’ble Supreme Court.”

October 2015: Infringes upon State’s rights

Jayalalithaa shot off another letter to PM Modi in October 2015 following reports that the Centre was attempting to reintroduce NEET.

“Tamil Nadu strongly objects to any such purported fresh attempts by the Government of India to review the judgement of the Supreme Court seeking re-introduction of NEET or by introducing it in any other name or manner, as it infringes upon the state’s rights and admission policies to medical institutions in Tamil Nadu,” said Jayalalithaa.

The then CM was also quick to remind the PM of the Tamil Nadu government’s “consistent stand that rural students and students from poorer socio-economic backgrounds were unable to compete with urban elite students in such Common Entrance Examinations, which are designed to favour the urban elite.”


May 2016: Ensure State Is Not Forced Implement NEET in Future

The last letter Jayalalithaa wrote to the prime minister over the issue of NEET before her demise was on 25 May 2016, just days after she won the 2016 Assembly Election. She began by thanking Modi for the “speedy promulgation of an Ordinance” exempting Tamil Nadu from NEET for the year 2016-2017.

She wrote, “While the Ordinance would temporarily address the issue for the current year, Tamil Nadu’s situation is distinct and different from other States.” She reiterated that the state had taken a number of steps over the years to ensure a level playing field for rural students, including abolishing a common entrance examination. Jayalalithaa concluded her letter requesting that “necessary measures may be taken to ensure that Tamil Nadu is permitted to continue its existing fair and transparent system of admission to medical colleges and dental colleges in the State and not forced to implement the NEET even in the future.”

A year-and-a-half late, would Jayalalithaa have made good on her 2016 poll promise of “sparing students the ordeal” of appearing for NEET? Could the late CM have prevailed upon the Centre to endorse the draft ordinance? While the questions may alas be hypothetical, what is certain is that Jayalalithaa would have registered the state’s strong objections to NEET.

(This story was originally published in TheNews Minute)

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