NEET has yet again occupied the centre stage in Tamil Nadu, with two youngsters dying by suicide within days of this year’s test on September 12. At least 16 youngsters have ended their lives over the medical entrance test that the state has opposed since its inception. The previous AIADMK government had challenged the NEET legally, passed a Bill against it (to which the President did not assent) and finally introduced a 7.5% quota for government school students in medical education to mitigate the effects of the urban, wealthy bias of the test. The DMK made removal of NEET from TN one of its poll promises, yet did not reveal its strategy before it was elected. This left the party open to criticism of cynically making an empty promise purely to score political points. On Monday, the party introduced a Bill in the Assembly against the test, similar to one passed by the previous government, yet citing the findings of its A K Rajan committee that described the test as favouring privileged students with access to private coaching. Presumably, it hopes the addition of data will strengthen its case. More interestingly, on Tuesday, a party MLA moved the Madras High Court, arguing that the subject of education should be moved out of the Concurrent list to the State list, on the ground that this was the intention of the Constituent Assembly. The 42nd amendment, which moved the subject to the Concurrent list, is violative of the basic structure of federalism, is the argument put forth in the petition. This could be viewed as another strategy of the DMK to make NEET inapplicable in the state. How far it will be successful in its goal remains to be seen.
Yet, there is a danger in TN of viewing the issue of NEET in isolation. Indeed, data shows the test does favour the urban and monied, but TN also needs to invest in strengthening its school education system, especially in addressing the learning loss suffered during the pandemic. It also needs to invest in healthcare systems itself, ensuring that vacancies are filled and staff well compensated. It could begin by prioritising payment of incentives and solatium promised to medical staff in the course of the pandemic