Nothing NEET about SC's ruling on common entrance test

Private colleges celebrate, the rest say move will encourage malpractices


Pankaj Kumar | July 22, 2013

The recent supreme court ruling on a common national entrance examination for medical courses has sparked off a heated debate. Private colleges have hailed it as the restoration of their right to conduct their admissions independently while many believe that the move will leave students juggling a number of entrance tests, and admissions at the mercy of for-profit education entrepreneurs.

In view of the controversy, the union health ministry has asked its joint secretary, Vishwas Mehta, to examine the court’s latest judgement, which, ironically, contradicts an earlier view of the apex court. In 2010, the supreme court had held that a common entrance test was necessary and the medical council of India (MCI) had brought up a proposal regarding the same at the instance of the court itself.

However, on July 18, the court retracted from its earlier stand saying that MCI held no authority to force private colleges to admit students based on the results of a national eligibility cum entrance test (NEET), relegating the council’s power to only regulating standards of medical education. While two members, former chief justice, Altmas Kabir and justice Vikramjit Sen, of the three-member bench hearing the matter, struck down NEET, the other member, justice Anil R Dave sent a dissent note. That the bench itself was divided in its opinion is a reflection of the debate outside the court. The judgement is now being criticised though MCI officials have been very guarded with their reaction. MCI secretary-in-charge, Dr Prasanna Raj, would only say, "The matter will be placed before the board of governors on Tuesday(July 23) and future course of action will be decided thereafter.”

The matter has now become a face-off between MCI and associations of private medical college. Some former officials of MCI explained saying that the council has had to stave off pressure from lobbies of the private institutions in admissions-related matter and had seen the move towards a common entrance test as a step to curb malpractices like the charging of capitation fees.

"It is unfortunate that the apex court has given this decision. A basic question remains answered — if medical council can look into the admission procedure,  then why can’t it regulate the entrance exams of medical colleges?” asked Dr Sangeeta Sharma, a former secretary of the council.

Officials privately told Governance Now that the council should consider filing a review petition because the very purpose of NEET was to check illegal practices and make admissions merit-based alone after factoring in the reservation policies in place. Most officials believe that NEET, framed by the council under the then chairman, Dr S Sarin, was in the interest of all. “Every care was taken in the draft bill to look into the interest of  students, including those from the SC, ST, OBC and minority communities. Even the regional aspirations of the immediate society of a medical institution were provided for. In addition, NEET had kept in mind the interests of the candidates. The common entrance test was all the more important in the light of the malpractices of private institutions, but now everybody has to go by the SC decision,” former MCI additional secretary (also OSD to Dr Sarin), Dr Prem Kumar, told Governance Now.
The Quality of Medical Education,  a group of more than 10,000 doctors pitching for regulating standards of medical education, observed July 18 as a ‘Black Day’ in protest of the judgement quashing NEET.

The Aam Aadmi Party, too, has protested the judgement and demanded that the government and MCI seek a review of the judgement, and enact a law for a common entrance test, if the review fails. A release from the party reads, “Medical seats must not be allowed to be sold and students must not be forced to take separate exams for each medical college. This case also underlines the urgent need for putting in place an independent judicial conduct commission for the accountability of the judiciary.”

The private colleges, however, scoff at the popular opinion. They contend that while the union and state governments spend nearly Rs 1.4-1.8 crore over each student, they are asked to make do with Rs 25-30 lakh per student and confirm to the same standards as the government institutions.

“If the government allowed us to demand 80 percent of what it spends on a student, we would be happy. Now, if the government doesn’t fix fees and expects us to do charity, how can we do the same?” asks a college chairman (refusing to be named) who is also a key official of an association of private colleges.



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