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CA Exams- 'Relax Condition Of RT-PCR Certificate; Give Opt-Out Option On Last Minute Centre Change' : Supreme Court Suggests ICAI

Radhika Roy
29 Jun 2021 7:58 AM GMT
CA Exams- Relax Condition Of RT-PCR Certificate; Give Opt-Out Option On Last Minute Centre Change : Supreme Court Suggests ICAI

The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India(ICAI) if alternate methods other than RT-PCR certificate can be adopted to asses whether a candidate is medically unfit to appear for the CA exams -scheduled to start from July 5- due to COVID-related difficulties.A Bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and Aniruddha Bose, hearing three...

The Supreme Court on Tuesday asked the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India(ICAI) if alternate methods other than RT-PCR certificate can be adopted to asses whether a candidate is medically unfit to appear for the CA exams -scheduled to start from July 5- due to COVID-related difficulties.

A Bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and Aniruddha Bose, hearing three petitions related to CA exams, observed that the effects of COVID can be long-lasting, and a mere negative result in the RTPCR certificate may not reflect the fitness of the candidate.

The judges said that they have personal experience that COVID infection can cause long term difficulties like fatigue, inability to concentrate even after recovery.

"It's all about giving one opportunity. This is also the old syllabus", the bench observed, pointing out to the fact this is otherwise the last opportunity for the old syllabus candidates.

The bench asked the ICAI counsel to submit a note today itself on following points :

(i) Alternate options for the condition of RT-PCR certificate.

(ii) Ensuring that exam centres are not used for other purposes like marriage function and that their exclusivity is maintained.

(iii) Examiners who are going to conduct exam should have RTPCR tests done before the date of exams.

(iv) In case of last minute change of exam centre, option to select alternate exam centre or opting out should be given to the candidate.

(v) If during the middle of exam a candidate suffers Covid, he should be permitted to take the remaining papers in the next cycle.

The Court will continue the hearing tomorrow.

The bench rejected the prayers made by some petitioners that articleship should be waived and CA students should be given vaccination priority on the basis of admit cards. The bench also clarified that logistics, transport and accommodation are the responsibilities of students.

'RTPCR certificates may be tough; last opportunity for old syllabus candidates' : Submissions of Meenakshi Arora

As the hearing started, Senior Advocate Meenakshi Arora, appearing in the case Sathya Narayana Perumal and others vs Union of India, submitted that the note submitted by the ICAI yesterday does not address many concerns raised by the students.

She submitted that this is the last opportunity for the candidates under the old syllabus. She also pointed out that the "opt-out scheme" is given only for candidates producing COVID RTPCR certificates after June 21. Due to lockdown and quarantine situations in many parts of the country, RTPCR certificates may not be possible for many students.

The exam centres are spread across the country. One state may have only 4-5 centres. So students will have to travel from their hometowns.

"What if a particular candidate is residing in a containment zone or an area from where he cannot travel for any particular reason?", she asked.

Positive RTPCR result may be difficult, bench observed

The bench observed that the condition of positive RTPCR certificate may be difficult for many students.

"Mr. Srinivasan, this condition you are mentioning here. RTPCR may be very difficult because you don't know. Persons who are not infected before 21 June will get infected. Those who have recovered also have longterm problems. There are different situations", Justice Khanwilkar told Senior Advocate Ramji Srinivasan, who was appearing for the ICAI.

"A general approach can be adopted. If a certified copy from an official is given that he cannot appear for a genuine reason and can appear in the next exam. One possibility is I am infected or one possibility is that family member is infected", the judge added.

The bench said that it was not doubting the ICAI's assessment that the situation is conducive for exams; but was suggesting certain relaxations to allow students to take exams.

"RTPCR is no determination at all. Sometimes it shows negative and person has symptoms", Justice Khanwilkar said.

The bench urged the ICAI counsel to identify a competent authority who can certify that a student is unable to appear due to COVID related issues.

"You only concentrated on COVID POSITIVE RTPCR and nothing more. You have to take inputs from experts. The entire cycle of infection is 14 days max. But after suffering from COVID, people are getting effects for three months. Have you taken that into account?", Justice Maheshwari asked.

Justices Khanwilkar and Maheshwari observed that they have personal experience that the effects of COVID can be long-lasting.

Welcoming the suggestions of the bench, the ICAI counsel said that he will get instructions from the institute on whether the conditions could be amended.

Other points raised by Arora

Senior Advocate Arora submitted that there should be a mechanism to ensure that COVID SOP is strictly followed in exam centres.

She also pointed out that the ICAI has unilaterally changed certain exam centres. In that view of the matter, the candidates should be given an option to choose alternate centres.

The bench said there can be two options to address this issue : (i) giving option for centre and (ii) option of "opting out" from exam.

Articleship cannot be waived, SC says

The bench refused to accept the prayer made by Arora for waiving the articleship on account of pandemic.

"You are asking for too much. That's a part of the exam. We cannot change it", the bench said.

Let there be no retaliation against students for approaching court, Arora urged

Next, Arora requested the bench to pass certain observations to the effect that there should be no retaliatory actions from the ICAI against students for approaching the courts against the CA exams. She said that last year, the ICAI had withheld the result of a candidate for her complaint against the conduct of the exams. She had to approach the Rajasthan High Court to get her results declared.

Taking note of these submissions, the bench observed that if any such retaliatory actions happen from the side of the ICAI, the students will be at liberty to approach the Supreme Court.

"If that happens, please come to us with a formal application. We will pass better strictures than High Courts. You can come here", Justice Khanwilkar observed.

Arora replied with gratitude that "this message is enough".

ICAI students cannot be given vaccine priority

The bench rejected the prayer made by another lawyer,Adv. Shashibhushan Adgaonkar(representing Anubha Shrivastava Sahai), for giving COVID vaccination priority for CA students who have been issued admit cards.

The bench said that the Court cannot create priority class in the present proceedings. It also said that same issue is pending before other courts.

The bench also told the lawyer that issues of transport and logistics are the responsibilities of the students.

Opt out option in the middle of exams

Arora raised a prayer that in the eventuality of a student who attend the July cycle gets affected by COVID in the middle of the exam, there should be an option to complete the remaining papers in the next cycle.

"If the competent authority certifies that the difficulty is due to COVID, yes you can", Justice Khanwilkar said.

Advocate Bansuri Swaraj pointed out to the bench that last time, the ICAI had given the opt-out option on self-assessment and self-declaration.

The bench asked the ICAI counsel to respond to the issues related to 'opt-out' and other issues by filing a brief note point-wise today itself.

Background of previous hearing

In the previous hearing, the Apex Court had adjourned the matter on account of Senior Advocate Ramji Srinivasan's submission on behalf of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI), that he had submitted a brief note pertaining to the stand of ICAI in relation to the contentions of the Petitioners.

The brief note in question states that ICAI plans on holding the exams as per the schedule in the name of the best interests of the students and as the COVID-19 spread is at a substantially low level currently.

"The COVID-19 spread is now at a substantially low level, therefore this is the opportune moment to offer the aspiring Chartered Accountants to further their professional careers. As on date, the number of COVID-19 cases are comparatively low and thus it would be in the best interests of the candidates if the examinations are held as per the schedule and not cancelled or postponed", states the Note.

Three petitions have been filed in total before the Supreme Court on the instant issue.

Plea For Opt-Out Option:

The plea by Child Right Activist Anubha Shrivastava Sahai seeks directions to provide an "Opt Out" option to all the aspirants going to appear in the exams willing to opt out before and during the exam, with a carry forward of all benefits. The plea has also sought an extra chance to candidates appearing for the intermediate and final exams under the old syllabus.

The Petitioner has sought directions for increasing the number of Examination Centres for CA Exams so as to ensure that at least one Examination Centre is kept in every District of India and not more than 50 students are allotted one Centre.

The Petitioner has also sought formulation and implementation of specific MHA guidelines for CA Examinations, free medical treatment to students infected during examination, conducting examinations in a staggered manner and free vaccination for all the students/candidates and other staff, invigilators amongst various other welfare measures.

Plea by 22 CA Students for Alternate Attempt and Revised SOP:

The plea moved through Advocates Hardik Gautam and Divyansh Tiwari sought directions to the Centre and Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) to formulate revised Standard Operating Procedure (SOP) to be adopted in the examination centres across India. (Sathya Narayan Perumal v. UOI.).

The plea also sought direction to the ICAI to provide an option of alternate attempt to any candidate who fails to appear in the July, 2021 examinations on account of any impediment, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Plea For Exam in Two Cycles:

Other than an Opt-Out Option, the plea has sought directions for examinations for all the courses to be conducted in two cycles i.e, "July, 2021- Cycle I and July, 2021-Cycle II", as was done for the November Cycle of CA examinations, 2020. (Amit Jain and Ors v. ICAI.)

The plea filed by a Chartered Accountant and 17 candidates through Advocate Nirnimesh Dube, has sought the direction to provide the candidates who may fail to appear in the July 2021 examinations on account of any impediment, caused by the Covid-19, an alternate attempt by carrying forward their candidature to the alternate cycle.

It may be noted that over 6,000 Chartered Accountancy aspirants also recently wrote to CJI NV Ramana seeking directions to ICAI to provide an Opt-Out option to the students who are unable to appear for the exams due to COVID-19, increase the number of attempts for Old Course St

The letter had urged the CJI to take suo-moto cognisance of the matter, club their application with the present PIL and list the matter under extremely urgent category as the exams are going to begin from 5th July and admit cards are to be released soon.

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