No RT-PCR needed as Covid-19 proof to opt out of CA exams, holds SC

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The Supreme Court on Wednesday held that RT-PCR report will not be required as a proof to show Covid-19 illness as only a medical certificate by a registered doctor will suffice for candidates who wish to opt out of the chartered accountancy (CA) examinations next month.

Expanding opt-out options for candidates who expressed apprehension to appear in the physical examinations scheduled to begin from July 5, a three-judge bench headed by justice AM Khanwilkar held that the medical certificate produced could be of the candidate who has suffered from Covid-19 or any family member with the infection due to which he or she was unable to appear or prepare for the examination.

Such candidates will be allowed to appear for the next cycle of examinations to be conducted by the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI), the authority which conducts the examination.

The directions issued by the court also allowed candidates who suffer from Covid-19 midway through the examinations to opt out without losing an attempt. The candidate will be allowed to take the back-up examinations conducted by ICAI as provided under the rules.

Nearly 374,000 students were to appear for the chartered accountancy (CA) examinations. The decision to hold the examination was challenged by candidates and child rights activists in three public interest litigations (PIL) demanding for more opt out options, alternate chance in the next cycle of exams, changes in the Standard Operation Procedure issued as per Covid-19 protocol and change of exam centre considering the pandemic situation.

On June 21, the ICAI came up with an opt-out scheme which allowed candidates who suffered from Covid-19 on or after June 21 to avail the benefit. On Tuesday, the ICAI amended its decision and extended the facility to candidates who recently suffered from Covid-19 or yet to recover from the after-effects of the Covid-19 and consequently were unable to appear in the examinations.

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The PILs were heard and disposed by a three-judge bench headed by justice AM Khanwilkar which said, “A candidate who has suffered Covid-19 personally or any of his family members in the recent past, so certified by a registered medical practitioner, as a result of which he is unable to appear in the ensuing examination or for that matter is disabled to prepare for the examination, will be able to exercise the opt-out facility.”

Such candidates need not present RT-PCR report if the medical certificate issued by a doctor for his family member is presented while requesting for opt-out, added the bench, also comprising justices Dinesh Maheshwari and Aniruddha Bose.

For ICAI, senior advocate Ramji Srinivasan pointed out that last year the institute received over 400,000 requests for opt-out. This included candidates who backed out without attempting the last paper in order to appear in the next examination cycle. The examinations cycles are in May and November. As the second wave peaked in May this year, the examinations were moved to July.

On the last-minute change of examination centre by ICAI, the bench directed the institute that if the change is within or outside the city, the candidate should have the facility to opt out. “You cannot force upon a candidate to have a particular centre,” the bench added. If any candidate is situated in a containment zone or facing lockdown restrictions, the ICAI scheme has provided for an opt-out.

The directions by the court came on three separate petitions filed by child rights activist Anubha Shrivastava Sahai, 22 candidates led by Sathya Narayan Perumal, and 17 candidates led by Amit Jain. The petitioners had also prayed for free transportation, accommodation, testing facility for invigilators, and vaccination for candidates.

The court restricted its consideration to the opt-out scheme. “As regards providing logistical arrangements, both infrastructural and human resource, the ICAI shall strictly adhere to the standard operating procedures laid down by the competent authority under the Disaster Management Act 2005,” the bench said.



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