SC Asks ICAI to Issue Fresh Notifications Regarding the ‘Opt-Out’ Scheme for CA Examinations

The Supreme Court has urged the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI), to be considerate of the students appearing for CA examinations between July 26 & August 16. The remarks came keeping in view the “dynamic” COVID-19 situation. The three-judge bench heard a petition filed by the India Wide Parents’ Association that questioned the ICAI’s ‘opt-out’ scheme. In regard to the same, the bench asked ICAI to file an affidavit.

The ‘Opt-Out’ Scheme

On June 15, ICAI released a notification that provided the students with the option of treating their attempt as canceled. Consequently, their candidature can be carried forward to the exams scheduled in November. The ICAI gave this option to the candidates who already submitted their exam applications for May 2020 cycle. The pandemic situation unfolded in late February and has resulted in turmoil for the academic community. To this end, the ICAI released the aforementioned option.

Petitioner’s Contentions

The Parents’ Association called out the June 15 notification, citing it to be “arbitrarily discriminatory”. The plea states that the ‘opt-out’ scheme discriminates against students living in remote areas or containment zones. The said scheme will bound them to lose a “precious examination attempt”. The PIL also sought the availability of more exam centers, across India. As there are only 259 centers in India and 5 overseas, the plea seeks to increase the number to at least 739, i.e., the total no. of districts in the country. An extract from the plea stated:

“It is apparent that Respondent No. 1 (ICAI) is only conducting the aforesaid Examinations in 30% of districts in India. Meaning thereby that the students from the other 70% of districts would be required to travel long distances, in order to appear for the aforementioned Examinations, which will put their lives in immense threat of deadly pandemic of COVID-19.”

Besides, the plea prayed for free transportation accommodation for students traveling long distances to their Examination Centers. Furthermore, a stand-by examination center for those centers that are likely to go into “containment zones”.

Remarks by the Bench

During Monday hearing, the bench contended that given the uncertainty the ‘opt-out’ option should remain till the last exam. However, the Bench yearned for a flexible ‘meeting ground’ approach. Justice Khanwilkar observed, “Those who have not opted out and are unable to take exam due to an exigency, let those students have the same benefit as someone who as opted out. If someone does not appear for the exam, treat them as opted out. Assume that it is COVID related.” Notwithstanding, there needs to be a provision that the students who passed the exam in November be treated as a July candidate only.

The bench added :

“Don’t make taking any of the CA exam difficult for students. Don’t make this semester-based opting out. You (ICAI) are a professional body. Take care of your students.”

Further, the bench added that the option to change the CA exam center needs to be open till the last week before the examination. This shall ensure flexibility in times of ever-shifting containment-zones. Granted that the bench dismissed the petitioner’s plea for free transportation facilities.

The bench, comprising of Justice AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari, and Sanjiv Khanna asked the ICAI’s counsel Ramji Srinivasan, to issue fresh guidelines in this regard. The next hearing of the matter shall take place on July 2.