A national eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) 2019 scandal exposed in Tamil Nadu on September 19, has sent shockwaves across the country and compounded the state’s woes with NEET — the sole national entrance exam for admission into undergraduate and postgrad medical and dental study programmes countrywide. From the time NEET was introduced in 2016, there’s been fierce opposition to it in TN (pop. 72 million). An impersonation scandal unearthed six weeks ago highlights the severe shortage of medical colleges in the state and the desperation of aspiring medical practitioners to acquire undergraduate medical education by hook or crook.
The scandal came to light when Dr. A.K. Rajendran, dean of the Theni Government Medical College (near Madurai), received email messages alleging that a first-year student K.V. Udit Surya had secured admission into the college by having someone impersonate him in NEET 2019 held nationwide in May. Rajendran’s inquiries revealed that the photograph of Udit Surya in his college ID did not match the one on his NEET marksheet issued by the National Testing Agency (NTA) which conducts the exam. Nor did it match his admission card issued by the Directorate of Medical Education’s selection committee. Further investigations revealed that Surya had been impersonated by an imposter hired for Rs.20 lakh to write NEET on his behalf in Mumbai. The case was then transferred to the Crime Branch Crime Investigation Department (CBCID) of Tamil Nadu police. Subsequent inquiries indicate that Surya’s father, a casualty medical doctor at the Stanley Government Medical College Hospital, Chennai, was party to the crime and had hired the impersonator through a Trivandrum-based agent, who runs a coaching centre. All three accused have been arrested by the police.
Suspecting that dozens of students may have bagged admission into medical colleges in similar fashion, the directorate of medical education (DME) ordered all 23 government and 13 private medical colleges statewide to verify the documents and photographs of all 4,250 students admitted this year. Moreover, the Madras high court has directed NTA to check the fingerprints of all students admitted this year. It also directed the CBI to probe the impersonation scam expressing apprehension that it could well be a pan-India racket.
“Since 1.4 million students across the country write NEET annually, more foolproof checks should have been devised to verify students’ identities. Using biometric data such as fingerprints and iris scans is a foolproof way to verify the identity of candidates writing the exam. They should also be checked at the time of admission counselling. Since there were no records of students’ biometric data, parents with deep pockets were able to hire professional impersonators,” says Dr. S. Ramalingam, dean of the PSG Institute of Medical Sciences and Research, Coimbatore.
Monitors of the mad annual scramble for admission into Tamil Nadu’s much too few medical colleges, believe there are other loopholes that need to be plugged to prevent admission scams. “The admission process is far from transparent. NTA only releases the NEET all-India rank list of admitted students. It doesn’t provide state lists. Moreover in Tamil Nadu, 85 percent of students admitted are from reserved categories. Students are also in the dark about their ranking in the national and state lists. This leaves room for malpractices as state governments publish their own merit lists which determine college choice,” says Nedunchezhian D, founder and CEO of Technocrats India College Finder, a Chennai-based career guidance and counseling services company.
Recommended: No need to answer NEET-PG
Curiously, neither Tamil Nadu’s political nor academia leaders seem to be aware that the root cause of the desperation of aspiring medical students is the severe shortage of medical colleges in the state, and indeed nationwide. The annual students’ intake of Tamil Nadu’s 23 government and 13 private colleges is a mere 4,600. Against this, 85,000 in the state wrote NEET 2019. But despite the almost bankrupt state government being unable to promote more medical colleges, private sector edupreneurs ready and willing to step into the breach are discouraged and bound in red tape and subjected to elaborate quota stipulations.
Meanwhile, with scams and scandals becoming normative in medical education, there are serious doubts about the quality of the 1.02 million allopathic medicine practitioners certified by India’s 539 scandal-tainted medical colleges.
Hemalatha Raghupathi (Chennai)