The opt-out window for the upcoming Chartered Accountancy (CA) Examinations may be broadened, ICAI President Nihar N Jambusaria told India TV, post a crucial hearing in the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
According to a ICAI notification released on June 21, the opt-out option will be provided in case the examinee himself or herself or his family members, residing int he same premises, are infected with the virus.
"We may broaden the opt-out window for the July exams. A note will be issued soon," Jambusaria said.
Sources indicated that there may be better flexibility exercised by the institute in terms of the opt-out option for students.
The professional examinations, conducted by the institute in May, were postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic and are scheduled to be held from July 5-20.
Earlier in the day, the top court 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.
The 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.
The apex court directed Ramji Srinivasan, appearing for the ICAI, 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.
SUPREME COURT'S MAJOR OBSERVATIONS
"CONSIDER COVID-RELATED ISSUES TOO"
The top court observed 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, directing the ICAI to 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. The remarks came after the court 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, comprising Justices A M Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and Aniruddha Bose.
The three-judge bench observed there are instances where the RT-PCR test may be negative but the person shows symptoms of COVID.
"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”.
"HAVE PERSONAL EXPERIENCE OF COVID"
Senior advocate Meenakshi Arora, who was appearing for one of the petitioners, said that 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.
In response, Justice Khanwilkar told ICAI counsel 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. The fatigue factor after COVID is horrible," the bench said, adding that RT-PCR report should not be the parameter and there has to be a competent authority having medical experience which can issue certificate to the candidates looking at COVID or COVID related issues.
"NO MARRIAGE HALLS TO BE DESIGNATED AS EXAM CENTRES"
The Supreme Court asked the ICAI to make sure that exam centers are not used for other purposes like marriage functions and that their exclusivity is maintained. Safety and security needs to be ensured.
"CHANGE OF EXAM CENTRE"
Justice Khanwilkar said that making any last-minute changes in examination centres of any candidate should be a ground for opting out.
"VACCINATION CANNOT BE ICAI'S PRIMARY RESPONSIBILITY"
Responding to a plea stressing on prioritised vaccination for students on the basis of admit cards, the court said that it cannot be the ICAI's primary responsibility to do so.