June 29, 2021 4:21:10 pm
The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) to look into all angles and consider having a competent authority to certify that a candidate of CA examinations scheduled in July is unable to appear due to COVID-19 related issues.
Observing that having a negative RT-PCR report may not reflect the fitness of a person as the effects of coronavirus may be felt for months, the apex court said that ICAI should look into all the aspects as the matter relates to granting an opportunity to opt-out to those who can’t appear in exams due to COVID related issues.
A bench headed by Justice A M Khanwilkar said this after it was told that this would be the last opportunity for candidates under the old syllabus and the benefit of opt-out option would be given only to those who would produce positive RT-PCR report.
“This condition of positive RT-PCR, which is pointed out, may be very difficult. Persons who have recovered from COVID may still be shown as positive. Those who have recovered may have long term problems. These are different situations,” said the bench, also comprising Justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Aniruddha Bose.
The apex court was hearing a batch of pleas seeking different reliefs including an opt-out option for the candidates, postponement of the exam, and increase in number of centres this year.
During the hearing conducted through video-conferencing, the bench observed there are instances where the RT-PCR test may be negative but the person shows symptoms of COVID.
“We are asking you to consider evolving a policy and identify a competent authority which can certify that a candidate is unable to appear in exam because of COVID related issues,” the bench told senior advocate Ramji Srinivasan, appearing for ICAI.
Srinivasan said ICAI would issue a notification addressing the issues raised by the bench. The ICAI has recently said that an opt-out option will be provided in case the examinee himself or herself or his family members (residing in the same premises) are infected with COVID-19.
The bench said, “It appears that while taking this decision, you only have taken into consideration RT-PCR. Have you taken input from the experts? The entire cycle of infection may be of 14 days. But after suffering from COVID, people may suffer from after-effects for three months. Have you taken that into account?”
“That is why we have indicated that not just COVID, but COVID-related issues need to be considered. You will have to look at it from all angles”
Senior advocate Meenakshi Arora, who was appearing for one of the petitioners, said that some serious issues have not been addressed in the note filed by the ICAI.
Arora referred to the issue of RT-PCR report and said candidates, who have to travel to different places to appear in the exam, may have suffered from COVID-19 earlier but he or she has not recovered fully.
“They have to look into the problem faced by candidates who have last opportunity to appear in the exam. After this exam, there will be new syllabus,” she said.
During the hearing, Justice Khanwilkar told Srinivasan that two out of the three judges on the bench have had personal experience of COVID.
“After recovery, for three weeks, after effects were there,” Justice Khanwilkar said.
“The fatigue factor after COVID is horrible,” the bench said.
The bench said that RT-PCR report should not be the parameter and there has to be a competent authority having medical experience which can issue a certificate to the candidates looking at COVID or COVID related issues.
“Your authority has to decide it,” the bench said, adding that it is a question of giving one opportunity as the exam will be on old syllabus and preparation is not a simple exercise.
Srinivasan said that he would communicate it to the ICAI and necessary notification would be issued.
Arora told the court that safety and security of those appearing in examination is of utmost importance and all standard operating procedure (SOP) of the government should be strictly followed.
One of the advocates, appearing for another petitioner, raised the issue of priority to students in vaccination.
The bench, while saying that it would not tamper with the vaccination policy, observed that another bench of the apex court is considering the issue regarding vaccination.
The top court asked Srinivasan to prepare a brief note on the issues discussed during the hearing — including on RT-PCR, maintenance of SOP at exam centres, examiners who are going to conduct exams should have RT-PCR test done prior to exam, last minute change of exam centre — and file it by evening.
“List this matter tomorrow to enable the counsel for the respondent institute to place on record point wise note regarding the issues deliberated today in the court,” the bench said.
ICAI had on Monday told the apex court that it is the most conducive time to hold CA exams as COVID-19 spread is now at a substantially low level, offering an opportune moment for chartered accountants to further their professional career.
It had said that the present COVID situation in the country is similar to when this court had allowed ICAI to hold examinations in November, 2020 and there is no reason to believe that it will not take adequate precautions. PTI ABA MNL SJK
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