The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India on Thursday told the Supreme Court that there were operational difficulties in holding the CA Exams - scheduled to start from July 29 - on pan India level on account of the spike in COVID-19 cases in several states such as Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra.
Senior Advocate Ramji Srinivasan, appearing for the ICAI, sought time to contact the exam centres to assess the ground situation, and sought adjournment of the hearing of the petition challenging the 'opt-out scheme' till July 10.
Accordingly, the bench granted the adjournment, reminding the ICAI that the ground situation was not "static" and was "dynamic".
The bench was hearing the petition filed by the Anubha Shrivastava Sahai challenging the "opt out scheme", and seeking more centres for CA exam for the May 2020 cycle Chartered Accountants examination scheduled between July 29 to August 16.
On June 15, the ICAI notified that the students can avail an 'opt-out' option, as per which their attempt will be treated as cancelled, and will be carried forward to the exams scheduled in November. The deadline for opt-out option was set as June 30. This was challenged as highly discriminatory and arbitrary by the petitioner.
On June 29, the Court had urged that the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) should be flexible with the 'opt-out' scheme, considering the COVID-19 pandemic situation.
The bench also suggested the ICAI to keep open the option for change in examination until the last week and not to freeze it, as the situation is constantly changing.
A bench comprising Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari & Sanjiv Khanna had then asked the ICAI to come out with a fresh notification in this regard and adjourned the hearing till today, July 2.
The bench had said that the situation due to pandemic was not "static" and was "dynamic". So, the option for opt-out must be kept open till last exam.
The ICAI had told the bench that the limited window of choosing to opt-out was kept to have a sense of certainty as regards the number of students taking the exam. Senior Advocate Ramji Srinivasan, ICAI's counsel, said that 53,000 students have already opted out from taking the CAexam to be held in July-August.
But the bench pointed out the pandemic situation was constantly changing, and containment zones were always shifting.
"Those who have not opted out and are unable to take exam due to any exigency, let those students have the same benefit as someone who has opted out", Justice Khanwilar suggested.
"If someone does not appear for the CA exam, treat them as opted out. As simple as that. Assume that it is COVID-19 related", the judge added.
"You have to make a provision then that if a student passes the exam in November, you have to say that it means they have passed the exam in July", the bench said.
The bench made two suggestions :
"Don't make taking of any CA exam difficult for students. Don't make this semester-based opting out. You (ICAI) are a professional body. Take care of your students", the bench told Senior Advocate Ramji Srinivasan, counsel for ICAI.
"Once the option of opting out is kept open till last paper, no other logistic concern would be relevant", the bench remarked.
The bench also said that the the option to change CA exam centre needs to be open till the last week before examination date.
"The change of centre should be open for all till the end. Till the last week, you need to be flexible, you cannot be rigid", the bench said.
Srinivasan told the bench that a modified notification will be issued addressing the concerns raised by the bench.
The bench however was not appreciative of the petitioner's plea for free transportation facilities to exam centres.
"Do you expect a bus to go to every aspirant's residence to pick them up?", the bench asked Advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava, petitioner's counsel.
Filed through Advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava, the plea stated that said "Opt-Out" option discriminates against students on account of the fact that some students who are living in remote areas of the country or are currently in containment zones are bound to choose the "opt-out" option and are thus slated to lose one "one precious examination attempt" of taking the said examination.
In order to ensure that there is at least one Examination Centre in every district of India so that maximum students can take the exams, the plea prayed for increasing the number of Examination Centres. as there are only 259 centres in India and 5 Centres overseas, whereas there are 739 districts in India.
"....it is apparent from the above that the Respondent No.1 ICAI is only conducting the aforesaid Examinations in about 30% districts in India. Meaning thereby that the students/ aspirants living in other 70% districts of India, would be required to travel from their homes for long distances, to other districts, in order to appear in the aforesaid Examinations, which will put their lives in immense threat of deadly pandemic of COVID-19" - Excerpt of Plea
This, the plea stated would ensure that that the risk of contracting infection is minimised as students would not have to travel long distances to partake the examinations.
Additionally, the petitioner prayed for free transportation and free accommodation for those students who are not in close proximity to their respective Examination Centres in order to protect them from "unnecessary harassment" and for "e-Admit Cards to be issued to the captioned students, as E-passes for free movement of such students in containment/ red zones during examinations".
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