Chennai

TN was not kept in the dark on anti-NEET Bills, govt. tells court

Denying the claim that the State was kept kept in the dark for two years with regard to the President having withheld his assent to two anti-NEET Bills passed by the Tamil Nadu Assembly in February 2017, the Tamil Nadu government on Monday told the Madras High Court that the information was shared in the Assembly as early as on June 28, 2018.

Advocate-General Vijay Narayan submitted before a Division Bench of Justices S. Manikumar and Subramonium Prasad the proceedings of the debate that took place on the subject in the Assembly last year and said the information was shared by Health Minister C. Vijayabaskar to a query raised by none other than the Leader of the Opposition M.K. Stalin.

As per the proceedings published under the Tamil Nadu Legislative Assembly Rules, Mr. Stalin wanted to know the status of the two Bills passed by the Assembly on February 1, 2017, since Rajya Sabha member T.K. Rangarajan of Communist Party of India (Marxist) had reportedly received a letter stating that the President’s office had not received the Bills.

Replying to it, the Health Minister clearly stated that the President had withheld his assent to the Bills and that the State government had written to the Centre seeking the reasons for having done so. Since the discussion had taken place on June 28, 2018, there was no question of the State or the Assembly having been kept in the dark on the issue, the A-G clarified.

He also brought it to the notice of the court that the State Law Secretary had written as many as 11 letters to the Union Home Ministry between October 25, 2017 and July 5, 2019 seeking reasons for the President having withheld assent so that the shortcomings, if any, in the two Bills could be rectified but there was no positive response so far.

The submissions were made during the hearing of a batch of public interest litigation petitions filed in 2017 seeking a direction to the State government to expedite the process of obtaining Presidential assent for the two Bills aimed at granting exemption for students of the State from writing National Eligibility-cum-Entrance Test (NEET) to gain admission in medical courses.

After recording his submission, the Division Bench disposed of all the cases since the prayer had become infructuous in view of the subsequent developments that had taken place.

The President had withheld his assent for the Bills on September 18, 2017. Therefore, the Union Home Ministry had returned them to the State government on September 22, 2017. The petitioners would have to file fresh writ petitions challenging the subsequent proceedings subject to their maintainability, the judges observed.

During the course of hearing, they also said the use of the term ‘withhold assent’ instead of ‘refuse assent’ in Article 201 of the Constitution might have led to a lot of confusion on the issue.

The Tamil Nadu Admission to MBBS and BDS Courses Bill of 2017 and Tamil Nadu Admission to Post Graduate Courses in Medicine and Dentistry Bill of 2017 were passed unanimously by the Assembly in 2017. They required Presidential assent due to their repugnancy with the Indian Medical Council Act of 1956 which provides for conduct of NEET.

The two Bills were received by the Union Home Ministry on February 2, 2017 and were circulated to the Union Ministries of Law and Justice, Health and Family Welfare and Human Resource Development for obtaining their comments. On March 31, 2017, a clarification was sought from the State government and the latter clarified the issue on April 6, 2017.

Again, one more doubt was raised by the Centre on May 19, 2017 and that too was clarified by the State government on May 29, 2017. Subsequently, the Centre placed the Bills for the President’s consideration on September 11, 2017 along with the reports and comments received from various Union Ministries as well as the State government.

A summary signed by the then Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh (now Defence Minister) was also placed before President Ram Nath Kovind who withheld his assent on September 18, 2017. Subsequently, the State wrote one letter in 2017, six letters in 2018 and four in 2019 seeking reasons for withholding assent but there was no response.

Article source: https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/chennai/state-was-not-kept-in-the-dark-on-anti-neet-bills-govt-tells-court/article29088360.ece

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