Observing that the scheme provided by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) is not enough, the Supreme Court, on Wednesday, June 30, permitted candidates scheduled to appear for the upcoming CA exams to opt out if they or their family members have suffered from COVID.
When they opt out thus, it will not be considered an attempt.
A three-judge bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and Aniruddha Bose also made it clear that a candidate need not produce an RT-PCR test report if a medical certificate issued by a registered medical practitioner (RMP) for his/her family members is produced along with a request for opting out.
If a candidate who suffered from COVID (personally or any family member), as certified by an RMP, is unable to appear for the exam, or is disabled from preparing for the exam, he/she is entitled to exercise the option of opting out, without it being deemed an ‘attempt’.
“Such candidates will be permitted to appear for the next examination for both the old and new syllabus,” said the bench.
Concerning candidates affected by the lockdown during the relevant period of exam, the apex court said, “As per the ICAI scheme, such candidates will be allowed to opt out and will not be treated as an attempt. Such candidates will be allowed to appear in the next examination.”
As per the logistical arrangements, both infrastructural and human resources-wise, the ICAI shall ensure there is strict adherence to the SOP (standard operating procedure) notified by the competent authority, including the Disaster Management Authority.
It was also clarified that if any candidate who is attempting the exam gets COVID during the exam, he/she will be allowed to opt out and it will not be treated as an attempt. They can give the exam next year. “They may be permitted to appear in backup exams as per the rules,” the bench said.
The top court also mentioned that in case of a last-minute change of examination centres, it disapproves the suggestion of ICAI that if it is in the same city, the candidate will not be allowed to opt out.
“We direct that candidates should be allowed to opt out and it will not be treated as an attempt. Such a candidate can appear in backup when the situation is conducive,” it said.
Senior advocate Meenakshi Arora, who was appearing for one of the petitioners, said, “Some serious issues have not been addressed in the note filed by the ICAI and it is not in line with what the apex court had observed.”
Arora referred to the issue of the RT-PCR report and said candidates, who have to travel to different places to appear in the exam, may have suffered from COVID earlier but he or she may not have recovered fully.
The apex court was hearing a batch of pleas seeking various reliefs, including an opt-out option for the candidates, postponement of the exam, and an increase in the number of centres this year.
During the earlier hearing, conducted through video-conferencing, the bench observed there were instances where the RT-PCR test may be negative but the person showed symptoms of COVID.
The ICAI recently said that an opt-out option will be provided in case the examinee himself or herself or their family members (residing in the same premises) are infected with COVID.
‘RT-PCR not a parameter’
The bench said that RT-PCR report should not be the parameter and there has to be a competent authority having medical experience, who can issue a certificate to the candidates looking at COVID or COVID related issues.
ICAI, on June 28, told the apex court, “It is the most conducive time to hold CA exams as COVID spread is now at a substantially low level, offering an opportune moment for chartered accountants to further their professional careers.”
It said 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.