Neet Is Neat Bowled
The judiciary is always right. For the common man, it is the seat of the highest level of human wisdom which just cannot be challenged once it comes from the Apex Court. One could however always express one’s shock, surprise and lament one’s own individual inadequacy to understand the logic and rationale on certain occasions and instances. The recent judgment of the Supreme Court of India (SCI) mandates that the MCI has no jurisdiction to conduct the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) for the 38,000 seats in medical and dental colleges and these should be the prerogatives of the individual institutions or the affiliating universities. It was pointed out in the judgment that MCI by conducting NEET was acting beyond its jurisdiction and thus violating the fundamental rights of the private colleges and universities on one hand and that of the minority institutions on the other. The deemed and private universities must never have felt so fortunate ever earlier. Prior to this, in another judgment the Court had pronounced that the Distance Education Council (DEC) had no jurisdiction to approve distance education courses. The AICTE, another statutory body like the MCI, was stripped of its charge of granting recognition to institutions conducting BBA and MBA courses. In this judgment the Court declared that the discipline of management was not a technical course and, hence, beyond the jurisdiction of the AICTE Act. One must mention that the regulatory bodies in higher education are known for considerable loss of their credibility and public esteem. Their most outstanding achievement could be cited as the regularity with which these have received criticism of diverse kinds including regular onslaughts and imposition of inquiries by the government. It is, however, no measure of the inadequacies of the respective Acts that led to their creation. Functional deficiencies and nonprofessional practices that crept in were solely the consequence of extraneous considerations in appointment of top functionaries and the erosion of autonomy that results because of political interference and bureaucratic intrusions. Now the judicial pronouncements reveal how these organisations over all these year, faltered in interpreting the tasks assigned to them in their respective Acts passed by the Parliament of India!
Acts and ordinances are always open to judicial scrutiny, so are the ways in which the regulatory bodies in education, or in any other sector, function. The formulation of any act is legal and technical task handled by the knowledgeable and the professionals. During implementation, people as stakeholders scrutinise how the respective organisations function. People suffer when there are misinterpretations of the rules and regulations by the institutions or the regulators. One may not dare to criticise a judicial pronouncement but the impact of the judicial pronouncement on NEET just cannot be ignored: a major national daily reported on July 20, 2013, that a medical institute in Ghaziabad had been richer by about a hundred crores after this judgment. The outright sale of seats in medical institutions is a common knowledge. Now, for all practical purposes the management has no cause to worry on any count. It requires not much of an ingenuity to complete the formality of arranging an entrance test at the local level. Prior to the introduction of NEET, students had to approach so many institutions and appear in multiple examinations at various places. The practice of combined tests after class 12 for various professional courses is, in public perception, the right step that saves avoidable tension and reduces financial burden imposed on parents and aspirants otherwise. India needs more medical colleges and the governments at the centre and in states are unwilling to invest. The sector is open to new entrepreneurs and they are there, to prepare more doctors and ‘serve the country’! Assured dividends and no risks make the sector an attractive proposition. So what if the investors or the financier charge one to two crores for a single MD seat? It has been happening for decades together. The regulatory bodies earned the reputation of creating more bottlenecks which one could cross only by greasing the palms! There is an abundance of takers and as per market practices that is what matters. Why should anybody grudge or come in between the two: the supplier and the buyer? To them it is against the essence of democracy. They have developed their own practices and procedures. The government and its regulatory bodies at the national and state levels just wink at it. Don’t ask why? Who does not know it?
For the layman, the concern is that of quality. Can a nation afford to prepare professionally ill-equipped medical practitioners? Private colleges and minority institutions that do not receive grants from the government now have practically every liberty they could aspire for. Under the new dispensation, merit is bound to be the casualty. Obviously, they need to generate funds and these would come only from the fees paid by the aspirants. One wonders how this would benefit the minority community institutions where only those on the top echelons of the economic pyramid would be able to manage admission. Same would apply to weaker sections in non minority private institutions as well. The SCI decision, if not reversed in appeal, shall have serious implications for social cohesion and religious amity. Young persons have a very different perception of provisions that segregate them on the basis of caste or religions. While over the years, everyone accepts the necessity of reservations for SCs/STs as mandated in the Constitution. Subsequent concessions offered on selective basis have been treated as politically motivated. The SCI is the last resort for the people to seek justice for the ‘last man in the line’. The NEET decision probably requires more Comprehensive and incisive scrutiny by the Court.
Education stands converted into a commodity available to the takers and buyers. The Constitutional guarantee to establish an egalitarian society and to ensure equality of opportunity of access and success shall have a meaning only when the government comes in a big way and ensures that no vested interests are permitted to close the doors of their institutions to those who deserve education on priority basis, irrespective of their weak socio-economic and cultural status. It requires political will and a leadership that not only professes but believes actions and ensures positive outcomes.
By J S Rajput