In relief to CA aspirants, SC says students can opt out of July exams

Spelling relief for lakhs of Chartered Accountancy (CA) aspirants, the Supreme Court on Monday said students can opt out of their July exams without running the risk of being marked as having failed in the papers they missed due to the pandemic.

Though allowing the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) to conduct the exams in July-August, a Bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar said students should have an option to change their exam centres “till the end”.

The Bench directed the ICAI to file a draft notification for approval on July 2, the next date of hearing.

The students’ choice of exam centres should not be frozen but left open-ended, the court said.

“The situation due to the pandemic is not static but dynamic. An exam centre may suddenly fall within a containment zone,” Justice Khanwilkar, heading a three-judge Vacation Bench, remarked orally.

Students could mail the ICAI their reason in connection with COVID-19 before opting out. This could be done any time before or during the exams.

“If any student is unable to attend any exam, it will be deemed that he opted out. Exams for the papers students were unable to take would be deemed as cancelled. This has to be done considering the situation now… A situation may arise that a student’s family member is tested positive, you [ICAI] cannot force him to appear for the exams and infect other students,” Justice Khanwilkar observed.

When students appeared again for the same papers in November, it would be considered as if they were taking their July exams.

If the papers they missed out were part of a group, the students would have to take the exam for all the papers in the group. For example, if four papers comprised a group and the student was unable to take the exams for two, he or she would have to appear for all four.

In the alternative, the student could opt to say that he had failed in the exams he missed out and write only those papers. In this case, he would not have to write all the four subjects in the group.

The court asked the ICAI to follow the guidelines issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs for safe conduct of exams.

The ICAI, represented by senior advocate Ramji Srinivasan, said there were 500 examination centres. They had been sanitised. The institute had initially resisted the court’s suggestion to be open about last minute changes in the centres but agreed when the Bench said an unprecedented public health situation was at hand and the ICAI should be able to “respond to the changing scenarios”.

‘3.46 lakh taking exam’

Mr. Srinivasan said a total 3.46 lakh students were taking the exams scheduled between July 29 and August 16. Of this, 2.89 lakh had opted in and only 52,000 had opted out.

The hearing came on a writ petition filed by the India Wide Parents Association, represented by advocate Alakh Alok Srivastava, which primarily challenged the ICAI’s ‘opt-out’ scheme.

The petition said the scheme discriminated against students living in remote areas or containment zones. Due to the restrictions, they would be forced to opt out unlike their counterparts living in urban areas.

Instead of the opt-out scheme, which was not pro-student, the petition said the ICAI should focus on increasing the number of exam centres. There should be one centre in every district.

“But what is the point of having a centre in a district where there are no candidates,” Justice Khanwilkar asked.

The court also did not agree with the petitioner’s request to arrange transportation for the candidates.

“Surely, you do not expect the ICAI to arrange buses to pick up candidates from their homes,” Justice Khanwilkar asked.

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