The Madras high court on Tuesday dismissed a public interest litigation challenging the Tamil Nadu government constituting a panel on the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET), saying it was not contrary to the orders of the Supreme Court on the matter.
The ruling Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam had last month constituted the panel, headed by retired high court judge A K Rajan, to analyse if NEET had an adverse impact on students from backward classes and if so, the committee would recommend remedial measures to the government.
DMK president and Chief Minister MK Stalin welcomed the ruling, saying the 'important verdict is the starting point for the Tamil Nadu government's determination and efforts', vis-a-vis NEET.
The first bench of Chief Justice Sanjib Banerjee and Justice Senthilumar Ramamoorthy said by no stretch of imagination, the constitution of the Commission can be seen as contrary to the orders of the Supreme Court or the powers vested with the central government.
The PIL was filed by K Nagarajan, general secretary of the state unit of the BJP, seeking quashing of this year's June 10 order of the Secretary, Health and Family Welfare (MCA-1) department, which constituted the Commission, as unconstitutional, illegal, unfair and without legal justification.
The bench said there is nothing to prevent an elected government from studying the impact of NEET.
Setting up of the panel does not amount to subverting the process of medical admissions and would not amount to defying the orders of the apex court or even the remotest challenge to the authority of the central government.
As long as the state government did not infringe upon the exclusive domain of Section 14 of the National Medical Commission Act, this court cannot interfere in the matter.
"Courts cannot rush in and interdict notifications or the steps taken with regard to its policy or garnering public opinion or the like," the judges said and dismissed the PIL.
Among others, the petitioner contended the order was against the procedure encapsulated under the National Medical Commission Act, 2019.
When the apex court had directed for the implementation of NEET by its order dated August 22, 2017, it was not open to the state government to suggest an alternative.
As per Article 261 of the Constitution, full faith and credit shall be given to the judicial proceedings of the top court, he said.
The constitution of the panel itself was illegal since most of the members were opposed to NEET.
The purpose of forming the committee itself was illegal since it virtually amounted to seeking the opinion of the public about the judgment of the Supreme Court, the petitioner added.
Meanwhile, Stalin welcomed the verdict and described it as a 'solid blow' to the 'duplicity' of the Bharatiya Janata Party and also slammed its ally All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam on the issue.
While the BJP had supported withdrawal of NEET in the state assembly if it was legally okay, the party also went to court against the AK Rajan Committee, and this exposed its 'duplicity', Stalin, whose DMK had made abolition of NEET a poll promise for the April 6 Assembly elections which it won, said in a party statement.
He assured to take further steps on the issue after the committee submitted its report.
"This is a very important verdict in our struggle against NEET. It is the starting point for the government's efforts to fulfill the dreams of medical education aspirants," he said.
Since the NEET schedule for the year has already been announced, the legal steps post submission of report by the panel would not get over within that time (September), Stalin said and regretted students have to face the exam this year.
"But we will ensure a situation where we would have ended the difficulties caused to our students due to NEET," he added.
NEET is opposed by almost all political parties in the state, even as a few medical aspirants have allegedly ended their lives over the matter, either due to poor score in the test, as in the case of S Anitha of Ariyalur, or over fears about the qualifying exam.