The NEET exam in its current form continues to divide the Centre and several States.

Tamil Nadu wants to get rid of the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) for admission to undergraduate medical courses for favouring rich and privileged students. The DMK Government also moved a Bill in the Assembly on Monday to “eliminate” NEET. The reason is a political storm in the State over the death by suicide of a farm labourer’s son hours before he was to take Sunday’s NEET exam because he had failed twice in the past and was afraid of failing for a third time. It is déjà vu of a similar suicide in the same State in 2017 that shook the nation, though nothing was done to address the malaise. A Scheduled Caste girl, also the child of a labourer, ended her life because she scored only 86 out of 720 marks in the CBSE-based NEET even though she passed her State board examination with 1176 marks out of 1200. Given the cut-offs that year, she would have secured admission on the basis of her Class XII marks. She even had impleaded herself as a respondent in a Supreme Court case challenging NEET, but in vain. No admission test is worth the trauma of losing young students. The test should be subjected to a review because there is a discrepancy. The issues are not complex to understand. In Tamil Nadu, like in all States, the syllabi of the State board and the CBSE are not aligned. So, the NEET syllabus, based on CBSE, appears tough for the State board students.

Incidentally, the JEE Mains, for engineering seats, is also CBSE-based and yet controversy dogs only NEET. Majority of the students belong to the non-CBSE stream. Poor students who cannot afford private tuitions suffer the most. The Tamil Nadu parties insist that the admissions be left to the States. The Centre insists on a centralised procedure. The judiciary supports NEET. With neither the Centre nor the States attempting to find a middle path, the issue is turning political. What was a matter related to syllabus has already transformed into one between haves and have-nots. Some politicians are raising the insider-outsider binary, arguing that NEET may end up hurting local students while benefiting CBSE students who may be from outside Tamil Nadu. These are polarising arguments best nipped in the bud by taking a re-look at the syllabus. The revised NEET examination should not discriminate against students of any background, strike a balance between the CBSE and State boards syllabi and give weightage to Class XII marks. Given that medical education is a concurrent subject, the Centre and the States, as well as the Medical Council of India, should jointly finalise the syllabus. The second step is for students of State boards to get time to adjust themselves to the revised syllabus. There is no need to reject NEET. The point of a national education policy is lost in the absence of a nationally centralised admission system.

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