In a significant development, the Tamil Nadu government has issued an executive order reserving 7.5 per cent seats in all state medical colleges for government school students who have cleared the mandatory national medical entrance test NEET. The quota would be applicable from this academic year for which admissions will begin soon.
The order was passed after Governor Banwarilal Purohit said he would take three to four months to sign the bill that was passed unanimously by the state assembly in September.
Though this move is being seen as a showdown between the AIADMK-led state government and the Raj Bhavan the order by the Health Secretary Dr J Radhakrishnan is carefully worded. It underscores the state government's power without undermining the Governor's consent to the pending bill.
"Since the NEET undergraduate results have been declared and the admission process has started, there is an urgency to decide on this issue. Since the power to issue executive directions under Article 162 of the Constitution of India is co-extensive with legislative powers, pending decision of the Honourable Governor, the government has taken the following policy decisions and issue orders accordingly," the order on 7.5 per cent quota states.
According to a senior bureaucrat, who spoke with NDTV, "The Governor's consent for a government order is only symbolic, unlike his nod for a bill".
Quota implementation is a prestige issue for Chief Minister Edappadi K Palaniswami, who had become the target of opposition's attack over the delay by the Governor.
If the order is implemented, around 400 NEET-qualified government school students could make it to medical colleges.
For almost a decade, the state government had abolished NEET - seen as anti-poor - and made admissions to medical colleges in the state purely on the basis of class 12 marks. But over the last few years, the state government has failed to get exemption from the compulsory medical college admission test.
Successive state governments have argued against NEET saying poor students from government school and rural areas can't afford private coaching, and could thus not qualify for this exam.
DMK chief and leader of opposition MK Stalin, who had recently led a protest to mount pressure on the Governor to sign the bill, welcomed the move and asked the state government to expedite admissions to medical colleges.
PMK chief Dr Ramadoss, however, has questioned if this would stand legal scrutiny.
"It will stand legal scrutiny. Our late leader Karunanidhi had adopted the same route (executive order) for giving 50 per cent quota in admission to post-graduate medical courses to serving government doctors. It was upheld by the High Court and Supreme Court," DMK parliamentarian P Wilson told NDTV.
With seven months to the Tamil Nadu Assembly elections, the ruling AIADMK wants to be seen to be proactive on the issue of reservation in medical colleges though it could be challenged in court.