The Supreme Court issued notices to the Union Government, the Medical Council of India (MCI), the Dental Council of India (DCI) and the Central Board of Secondary Education (CBSE) on Friday, March 3, asking for their response with regard to why Urdu has not been included in the list of languages in which the National Eligibility cum Entrance Test (NEET) 2017 will be conducted. The order was passed by a two member Bench comprising Justices Kurian Joseph and R. Banumathi after the hearing on Writ Petition Number 122/2017 filed by the Students Islamic Organisation of India (SIO).
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Earlier, on February 24, a plea of urgency motion filed by SIO seeking for an advancement of date regarding the Urdu inclusion hearing had been rejected by a three member bench comprising Chief Justice of India, JS Khehar, and Justices DY Chandrachud and SK Kaul. The reason for seeking advancement was that NEET registrations would close on March 1 and students who wished to apply for NEET in Urdu would be left disadvantaged. The petition was listed for hearing on March 3, and the next hearing in which the government bodies will respond to the notice has been scheduled for Friday, March 10.
NEET 2017 will be held on May 7. Apart from the Urdu inclusion controversy, various rules of the exam have been subject to legal battles. Following protests by students across India, the criteria on the maximum number of NEET attempts was rolled back by the MCI. Another petition challenging the age limit will be heard on Monday, March 20 by the Supreme Court and the Lucknow Bench of the Allahabad High Court.
As per the writ petition filed by the SIO, the non-inclusion of Urdu in the list of NEET languages is a violation of Articles 14 and 21 of the Constitution and including only 8 regional languages apart from Hindi and English is extremely unfair on numerous students completing their school education in the Urdu language. According to the SIO, Urdu is the sixth most spoken language in India as per the 2011 Census but it has been excluded at the expense of Gujarati, Kannada, Oriya and Assamese, which are the seventh, eighth, tenth and twelfth most spoken languages in the country respectively. The CBSE notification on NEET 2017 states that Hindi and English along with the regional languages of Tamil, Telugu, Gujarati, Marathi, Assamese, Bengali, Oriya and Kannada will be the official mediums of examination.
The petition further argues that “Urdu has been arbitrarily and unreasonably left out as a medium” for NEET 2017. “Leaving out Urdu...not only deprives a large number of students studying science in Urdu Medium of equal opportunity, but is also a violation of right to life, being denied the opportunity to pursue a career in Health Sciences and shape their lives as per their choice and interest,” the petition reads.
In January 2017, the Maharashtra Government had also urged the Centre to add Urdu to the list of languages. “168 Urdu medium science junior colleges are running in the state, accounting for around 11,000 students appearing for class XII exam every year...Considering the large number of students from Urdu-medium appearing in NEET, it is necessary that the test be conducted in Urdu language too. We request the government to make appropriate changes to the present rules,” Girish Dattatray Mahajan, the Maharashtra State Minister of Medical Education had been quoted as saying. This was followed by Telangana Chief Minister K. Chandrashekhar Rao writing to Prime Minister Narendra Modi requesting for the inclusion of Urdu in NEET on the basis that it was Telangana’s second language and thousands of students were pursuing their studies in the same.
The SIO pointed out to the Supreme Court that the requests of Maharashtra and Telangana had been officially conveyed to the MCI via the appropriate channels. With the NEET application process closing on March 1, the petitioners also requested that the CBSE should make provisions for candidates who have already applied in some other language to be able to apply in Urdu if they so wish.
While it seems likely that the Supreme Court verdict on March 10 will be in the favour of including the Urdu language, whether it will apply for NEET in 2017 or only from next year onwards remains to be seen.
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