In a major setback to Tamil Nadu, the Supreme Court has quashed its decision set apart 85% of seats in government medical and dental colleges for state board students. The apex court called it discriminatory against those from CBSE and other streams.
SC rejected the contention of the government that the aim was to bring about a level playing field. The exam in question, the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET), is based on the CBSE syllabus and, therefore, it gives an unfair advantage to students from this stream over state board students.
The appeal was dismissed at admission stage against orders of a single judge and a bench of the Madras High Court which held that the government order (GO) was discriminatory and was violating Article 14 (equality clause).
The bench, comprising of Justices Dipak Misra and A M Kanwilkar, said that the GO defeats the very purpose of merit-based admission and is against the central law and added that the state cannot bring a law against a Central Act unless its Bill gets the President’s assent.
The GO itself was issued to get over an impasse created by the Centre sitting on Tamil Nadu State's Bill seeking exemption from NEET. The high court said that it cannot take a policy decision through an executive action, namely a GO.
Rejecting the contention of the state that no court can interfere with a policy decision, the judges said – “Your policy is contrary to the Central law. Unless you get President’s assent, you cannot do that. No state has done that.”
The contention made by the state that the GO would enable state-board students to compete on equal footing with other streams and boards was also rejected by the court. “By appearing for NEET they have become equal to CBSE students,” the judge said.
Medical Council of India (MCI) counsel Gaurav Sharma told the court that MCI does not approve of such classifications though it did exempt Tamil Nadu and other some states from NEET in 2016 to give their students time to prepare for the exam.
The SC order has now put additional pressure on the Edappadi government to get the President’s assent for two Bills passed by the state Assembly seeking exemption from NEET for state board students and the 85% reservation.
Though the two Bills were unanimously passed by the Tamil Nadu Assembly last February, the Centre refused to give a permanent exemption to the state from NEET. Central Ministers like Rajnath Singh, JP Nadda, Shiv Shankar Prasad and Arun Jaitley conveyed their view to Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami when he met them in this regard.
The GO was passed in a haste after the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) resorted to forming a human chain in support of a permanent exemption from NEET.
DMK working president MK Stalin said the government should have made All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam's (AIADMK) support to the BJP’s Presidential and Vice-Presidential candidates conditional upon the Centre’s assent to the two Bills.
Now that state has lost the battle for the exemption from NEET, the government will have to face the wrath of the Opposition.
Meanwhile, the state board students have been caught in this tussle. They have not been able to adequately prepare for the NEET since they did not know if they would be exempted or not.
The high court, as well as academics, have said that if the state board students are not able to compete with those from the CBSE, the solution lies in upgrading the syllabus and coaching them instead of resorting to short cuts.
State Minister for school education KA Sengottaiyan has said that besides upgrading the syllabus and improving the infrastructure of government schools, both of which are pending, the ministry has also prepared a bank of 5,000 questions to help students prepare better.