Yet again, the NEET is at the centre of a political storm in Tamil Nadu. This year the issue is related to the state government’s Bill to reserve 7.5% of its medical seats for government school students. The Bill was passed with the support of all parties in the House. Tamil Nadu has protested against the NEET from day 1. The argument against it is that it disadvantages even bright students from poor and rural backgrounds.
While parties in TN have been accused of playing politics—unfairly at times—over the exam at the cost of young lives, the AIADMK government has made serious efforts to face the new normal and level the playing field. To this end, it has improved textbooks significantly to bring them on par with the CBSE syllabus. This year, experts said at least 80% of the NEET questions were from the state syllabus.
The government students quota is another attempt to ensure that poor and rural students can become doctors. However, this has been held up, inexplicably, by the state governor who is yet to give his assent to the Bill for over a month now. The state revealed this to the Madurai Bench of the Madras High Court. The state assured the court that the medical prospectus will not be issued till the assent is given.
Days later, the NEET results were announced in which the structural barriers compounded by the pandemic were laid bare: Only 1,633 students from government and aided schools, whom the state coached, cleared the test in their first attempt as against 2,557 last year. The number of government and aided students who took the test this year was only 6,692, a huge drop from 17,630 last year.
The figures are hardly a comment on the abilities of the students than on the barriers (financial, social, regional) they face in clearing the test. In this context, the governor’s silence is baffling. Children have ended their lives over the NEET in acute distress. When the state’s constantly warring parties set aside politics to unanimously pass a Bill, it is the governor’s duty to provide his assent at the earliest, lest
C N Annadurai’s famous quip becomes even harder to counter: A state needs a governor like a goat needs a beard.