In recent times, the Supreme Court may perhaps not have dealt with as many as a dozen separate review petitions for five consecutive days within a week after it delivered its judgment on introducing the National Eligibility Entrance Test (NEET) for medical students from 2016-17. However, investigations by The Sunday Guardian have revealed that a powerful lobby of private colleges is behind the ongoing legal battle against the NEET.
This lobby includes around 100 private medical colleges that control close to 10,000 medical seats that come under the NEET and their annual business turnover touches Rs 8,000 crore to Rs 10,000 crore, as a management quota MBBS seat in South India currently commands a donation close to Rs 1 crore and a PG seat is sold at Rs 2 crore.
The Supreme Court bench headed by Justice A.R. Dave heard a batch of petitions filed by as many as eight states – Kerala, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu, Pondicherry, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh and Jammu and Kashmir – and a private medical colleges’ association covering colleges from across the country represented by lawyer Kapil Sibal.
On the face of it, the states and the colleges argue that the sudden decision of the apex court to impose NEET on their students with effect from the next academic year would pose a plethora of problems, right from affecting the prospects of rural students to infringement on the rights of the states to run their own medical admissions methods.
However, beneath that, there lies a larger conspiracy by the private medical colleges lobby that is powerful enough to dictate the policies of states to oppose the NEET which is aimed at simplifying the complex process of medical admissions in the country. Enquiries made by The Sunday Guardian revealed that this lobby of private colleges, mainly located in South India, is behind the ongoing legal battle against the NEET.
A small group of representatives of these colleges are currently camping in Delhi and coordinating with different state governments in the country for putting up an effective fight in the apex court to see to it that there would be relief from the NEET at least for a year. As the Supreme Court is not ready to hear the managements of many private colleges, most of them are working through the states and behind the scenes.
Of the total 425 medical colleges currently recognised by the Medical Council of India (MCI) at present, as many as 213 are from southern states — Kerala 61, Karnataka 55, Pondicherry 13, Tamil Nadu 30, Andhra Pradesh 31 and Telangana 23. Of them, 60% of the colleges are run by the private sector (some religious outfits in Kerala and Karnataka).
Among the northern states which account for more medical colleges are: Maharashtra 35, Gujarat 25, Uttar Pradesh 35, and other larger states like Bihar (14 colleges), Rajasthan 16 and Madhya Pradesh 29. The share of private colleges in the northern states is less than 50% — that explains the “clout” of the lobby of private medical colleges in the south.
The opposition to NEET is not just from the private medical colleges. The national level common entrance test is also resisted by thousands of private junior colleges (Plus 2 level) that are run by a handful of corporate groups in South India. In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, the Sri Chaitanya group, which commands close to 2,500 junior colleges, is lobbying hard among parents against NEET.
The Narayana Group, another corporate group, runs another 3,500 colleges in both the Telugu states as well as some in neighbouring Karnataka and faraway Rajasthan and Delhi. The Narayana Group is owned by AP Municipal Administration Minister P. Narayana. In fact, Narayana briefed the Andhra Pradesh Cabinet on 3 May about the “disadvantages of NEET to Telugu students”.
These corporate junior colleges that are prevalent in Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, too, annually collect around Rs 2 lakh from each student for imparting medical entrance coaching. As Kerala, Karnataka, AP and Telangana (Tamil Nadu and Pondicherry go by Intermediate marks alone) give weightage to Intermediate marks, these corporate colleges claim to guarantee top scores to students if they join them.
There have been charges and criminal cases against these corporate colleges indulging in malpractices to ensure more marks to their students. These colleges don’t want a transparent and simplified entrance test for medical aspirants. Some organisations that back the NEET said that this lobby of colleges wants to fleece parents of lakhs of rupees in the name of dozens of medical entrance tests — APPMT, Eamcet, KCET etc.
“The NEET is the solution to a host of difficulties faced by medical aspirants in the country. By appearing for one simple test, a medical aspirant can save 90 other tests and lakhs of rupees as fees. But by making dubious arguments, the private colleges’ lobbies are opposing NEET to save their big money making business,” S. Prabhakar Reddy, convener of Save Education, Hyderabad, told The Sunday Guardian.
Even after knowing the Supreme Court verdict on NEET on 26 April, AP went ahead and held its EAMCET on 29 April, while Telangana has made arrangements to conduct its EAMCET on 15 May. The private medical colleges under minorities’ managements are planning to conduct their own entrance tests for candidates later this month. Each test has an entrance fee of Rs 500 per student.
The arguments of AP and Telangana that NEET was suddenly imposed by the apex court, too, appear far from the truth. The MCI, for the first time, issued a notification to conduct NEET on 21 December 2010. Since then, the lobbies of private colleges have been putting pressure on the states to resist NEET.
These lobbies filed as many as 90 petitions in the country since then and won an order in 2013 when the Supreme Court ruled that the states have every right to conduct their own medical entrance tests. However, the SC which heard the issue afresh based on a PIL filed by an NGO overruled its 2013 order and upheld the 2010 notification of MCI.
Another major argument of the states is that rural students and those who had studied in government colleges that followed state syllabus in regional languages would fare badly in NEET, which is based on the CBSE syllabus in English and Hindi languages. But, this, too, appears misleading as NEET’s questions can be translated into regional languages and dovetailed to the state syllabus.
“In fact, most of the states in the country and almost all the states in the South have revised their syllabus in tune with the CBSE syllabus long ago. Otherwise, how can these corporate junior colleges boast of imparting coaching to their students for APPMT and AIIMS? Now, all students are NEET-ready,” said Chukka Ramaiah, former MLC from teachers’ constituency in Telangana.
AP and Telangana are also taking shelter under Article 371(D) (like Article 370 of Jammu & Kashmir) that allows the erstwhile AP to allocate all of its professional seats to local students. They don’t have to provide 15% quota to students from other states. However, experts say that these two states can still go for NEET, yet follow 371(D) safeguards for their students.
Telangana additional advocate general J. Ramachandra Rao who is currently in New Delhi to appear before the Supreme Court told The Sunday Guardian that both Telangana and AP, along with several other states, were urging the apex court to exempt them from NEET for one year. “This is the popular demand from parents and students; so we are asking for it,” he said.
AP’s counsel P.P. Rao has, however, sought exemption from NEET for eight more years as per Article 371(D), which has been extended by the AP Reorganization Act 2014. The private medical colleges’ association that appeared before the Supreme Court sought the case to be transferred to a Constitutional bench so that the rights of the states can be protected.