The Rajasthan High Court has imposed a cost of Rs 20,000 on the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) in the case of a student who had moved the court claiming that her examination results were wrongly withheld over an email she had sent to the institute over exams being held amid the COVID-19 pandemic. The student, Risha Lodha, said in her petition that she had written an email to ICAI in November last year, over the spread of COVID-19, saying that if CA examinations were held it would lead to a spike in cases. The Rajasthan High Court bench of Justice Dinesh Mehta in his order noted that though she made many emotional comments, the thrust of her email was only to suggest that online infrastructure be developed so that all levels of CA examinations are conducted online.
The student had cleared her CA foundation examination in 2018 and was eligible to appear for the May 2020 intermediate examinations. However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, these exams were cancelled. When the new schedule was announced, the exams were to be held from November 21 to December 14, 2020. The institute had permitted candidates who had qualified for the May exam to appear in November or opt out and appear for the examination later in January 2021.
The court noted that a day before the examination, the student wrote a letter to the instituteâ€™s office bearers, highlighting the situation with regards to the spread of COVID-19. The court said that she cautioned that if the examinations were held, it would lead to exponential growth in the number of COVID-19 cases. â€śThough the petitioner made many emotional comments, but the thrust of her email was only to suggest that online infrastructure be developed so that all levels of CA Examinations be conducted,â€ť the court said. Embedded below is a copy of the email that the student sent to the institute, which was produced in court as well.
The court also noted that the student and her father got infected with COVID-19, following which she opted to appear for the examination later. After the examination, however, she was informed that her results have been kept on hold, because of â€śderogatory remarks she had made in her e-mailâ€ť. The court said in its order that immediately after she received the notice, that day itself she expressed regret about the contents of her email. She was asked to appear before the institute for a hearing and she did, but she was not informed of the outcome of the result. Here is a copy of her apology mail:
Then, the court noted, when results of the exam were released on March 26 2021, the student checked online only to find that her result had been cancelled for â€śadopting unfair meansâ€ť. She wrote to the institute again, which is when the Instituteâ€™s Examination Committee told her that her result was cancelled as she was guilty of making â€śderogatory remarks in the captioned examinationâ€ť. This is when the student moved the court with her plea.
After hearing both parties, the Rajasthan High Court held that the action by the Examination Committee in cancelling the studentâ€™s result is per-se without jurisdiction.
â€ś...in the opinion of this Court, there is hardly anything in the e-mail, for which it can be alleged/ considered as or even construed to be derogatory. May be, the petitioner could have been more calibrated in her emotional utterances and could have avoided some of the sentences, but then also, this Court is unable to countenance respondentsâ€™ stand that the contents of her mail were derogatory,'' the court said in its order.
The court said that taking action against the student based on her email was uncalled for and unwarranted, and on the contrary, the action of the Institute was â€śrather overbearing or high handedâ€ť.
â€ś...the Institute, which is adorned with enormous power to elevate or uplift the lives of vulnerable & struggling students, is required to practice greater restraint in invoking its powers especially against the students. Instant case called for not just restraint but absolute abstinence from initiating any action,â€ť the court observed in its order.
The court held that the studentâ€™s fundamental rights have been infringed and actions of the examination committee are â€śmanifestly arbitrary," â€śnothing short of colourable exercise of powers" and that they â€śshowcase vindictiveness of respondent Committeeâ€ť.
The court, after passing the order, opened the sealed envelope that contained the studentâ€™s results and announced that she had passed the examination. The court asked the Institute to pay a cost of Rs 20,000 as litigation fees to the petitioner within a period of 30 days.