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26 May 2016 Editorial

 

26 May 2016 

Resolving the NEET conundrum

 

The ordinance granting a year’s exemption to State government institutions from NEET, the National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test, provides timely relief to lakhs of students. There was confusion, and anxiety, after the Supreme Court suddenly decided that the test should be the sole basis for medical and dental college admissions from this year onwards. Several State governments objected to NEET, arguing that its implementation would denude them of the power to regulate admission to institutions run by them, as well as to private institutions within their jurisdiction. Some States have their own legislation governing admission and had strong objections to the prescriptive approach underlying NEET. The Centre clearly had no option after the State governments brought pressure on it. The exemption is, however, limited to undergraduate courses of State government institutions. Admission to postgraduate courses and all courses in private medical and dental colleges will still be under NEET. And from next year, NEET will be the sole national test to decide a candidate’s admission to any medical or dental course. The regulations that introduced NEET were struck down by a Supreme Court Bench in 2013 by a 2:1 majority. The dissenting judge, Justice A.R. Dave, now heads the Bench hearing the review petition against that judgment. The 2013 verdict has been recalled, but the review plea is yet to be disposed of. The Bench is keen on enforcing NEET immediately.

A common national test for professional courses is faultless, in principle. In this connection, it will address the problem of private institutions selling medical courses at astronomical prices to candidates who may lack aptitude. Yet, it is important that the ground is properly prepared before the implementation of a common test. State governments have to be convinced that their socio-economic priorities will not be affected by centralised regulation of admissions, and that regional disparities in syllabi and linguistic differences will be adequately resolved. There is also a larger legal issue since there are Supreme Court judgments that have underlined the unfettered right of unaided, minority institutions to regulate their own admissions processes, subject to their being fair, transparent and non-exploitative. These contradictions need to be ironed out, and it would have been far better had the court allowed the political executive to assess the feasibility of having a common national test this year instead of ruling on what is essentially an executive decision. A perfect pan-Indian medical admission system needs to be carefully crafted in the present environment, not rammed home by judicial fiat.

 

On the road to smartness

 

With the second round of 13 cities making it to the Centre’s list, there are now 33 urban agglomerations that have made a successful bid to become “smart cities”. The idea of city managers accepting a ‘challenge’ to make specific ‘smart’ proposals is being followed in several countries at different levels of development. Cities in the developed world are focussed on self-driving cars, electric vehicles and smart grids, while those in India are yet to meaningfully address basic issues such as walkability, public transport, waste management and pollution. This was evident in the latest round, for instance, with the Lucknow municipal administration, which made the best-rated bid, finding that 58 per cent of residents who took part in its online survey cited traffic and transport as their top priority, with 24 per cent highlighting solid waste management. Unsurprisingly, this is also representative of the national story. City administrations have done a poor job of gathering data available from multiple sources and analysing them to make informed decisions on civic services. A lot of new information about what people do is now available from commercial services that use mobile phone applications, such as taxi companies, and the anonymised data with them can aid planning.

Cities that have successfully bid for Central seed funding face the real challenge of attracting private partners to raise the massive resources needed. The 20 cities chosen in the first round are expected to spend Rs.48,063 crore on projects, and the 13 in the second round, Rs.30,229 crore. Intelligent parking could be one way to mobilise funds and cut congestion. By integrating IT, motorists could be guided to available parking spaces in various locations in a city, using real-time information. Over time, it would be possible to even predict the availability of parking spaces based on usage patterns. A smart city should look at robust IT connectivity and digitalisation. At the consumer end, however, few cities have achieved this. They have not integrated the databases of their service agencies for water, transport, property and energy, and are therefore unable to serve citizens online. This is the low-hanging fruit of civic smartness waiting to be picked, and it should be mandatory for all million-population cities to do so in a time-bound manner. The benefit of investment in urban regions is bound to increase property values, and governments should tap into the surplus to fund more programmes, especially affordable housing. All cities can become smart, if the Urban Development Ministry makes available off-the-shelf open source technology solutions for management. In the smart world, sharing rules. And governments should set the pace.

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