The Tamil Nadu Governor’s refusal to give assent to a Bill ensuring 7.5% reservation for government-school educated students in medical admissions has resulted in a new row in the state. The Bill, which was passed unanimously in the assembly, has been with the governor's office for over a month now.
The Communist Party of India (Marxist) (CPI(M)) held a protest across the state condemning the delay while the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) announced that it was ready for a joint protest with the ruling All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) to ensure that the Bill was passed.
The government, in order to save face, deputed five ministers to meet the Governor on October 20 to seek approval for the move.
Reservation Bill Waits for Nod
On September 15, the Tamil Nadu Assembly unanimously passed a resolution to reserve 7.5% of undergraduate medical seats for students from government schools. The government’s hand was forced following severe criticism for its failure in seeking an exemption from National Eligibility cum Entrance Examination (NEET).
The Bill is still pending with the Governor’s office for his nod. G. Ramakrishnan, politburo member of the CPI(M) who led the protest near the Raj Bhavan, said: “The 7.5% reservation will help the socially and economically backward students who are educated in government schools. The Governor must approve the bill sent to him by the council of Ministers as per Article 200 of the Constitution. So, we can say that the governor is not discharging his duties”.
The resolution was sent to the Governor’s office on September 18. The government has decided to delay the admission process for medical colleges till the Bill is approved in order to ensure that reservation is implemented in the current academic year itself.
DMK Demands Immediate Assent
The DMK has stated that the party is ready for a joint protest with the AIADMK to ensure the reservation for government-school students. Party chief M.K. Stalin wrote a letter to the Governor pressing for the office’s approval at the earliest.
The letter reiterates the party stand on scrapping NEET for medical admissions. It said NEET “acts as a hindrance for the rural and urban poor students to pursue their medical studies and to realise their dream of becoming doctors”.
The NEET results were announced on October 16, further adding pressure on the state to ensure the Bill is approved at the earliest. The government deputed five ministers to meet the Governor and sought approval for the Bill to save itself from embarrassment. The call for a joint-protest by the DMK also added to its worries.
Precedence in Karnataka
The inordinate delay in granting approval for the Bill has raised concerns over the clout of the Governor on policy issues. Bills are generally approved quickly and are rarely returned to the cabinet to seek clarifications. Political parties have referred to reservation in Karnataka in medical admissions as a precedent.
“In Karnataka, 15% seats are reserved for government school educated students, while 5% is reserved for students who studied in Kannada medium schools. So the reason for delaying the 7.5% horizontal reservation is medical admissions in Tamil Nadu is unwarranted and unacceptable. The governor should function as per the Constitution and not as a representative of the Union Government,” Ramakrishnan added.
The refusal of the Centre to continue with the 50% reservation for government doctors in post-graduate and super speciality courses also drew flak. In a judgement in September, the Supreme Court ruled that the state governments have the power to reserve seats in these courses for in-service doctors.
Opposition to NEET Persists
The major political parties continue to express their opposition to NEET, citing the deprivation of a level playing field for socially and economically backward students. The Bills seeking exemption from NEET were rejected by the President’s office in 2017.
The state also witnessed several suicides by medical aspirants owing to the stress and failure to clear the national level entrance exam. The demand for scrapping the entrance exam intensified after a string of suicides in the run-up to the recent exam as well.
The delay in getting the Governor’s approval for the Bill has come as a stumbling block for medical aspirants, as well as the ruling AIADMK.