The Supreme Court on Monday told the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) to be flexible and consider allowing students to opt out of the exams amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
A bench of Justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari, and Sanjiv Khanna took up the matter through videoconference and told ICAI during the hearing: "Don't be rigid, be flexible. Show some concern for the students." The ICAI counsel sought time to issue fresh guidelines in connection with the current cycle of the CA exams slated this year.
The bench noted that the option to change examination centres should be made available to students/candidates to help avoid travelling, and that things cannot be rigid as the coronavirus situation in India is still evolving.
The ICAI counsel contended that it has 567 test centres that are properly sanitised, and that it cannot change the exam centres now.
In response, the bench said that the option to change the test centre should be available in case a particular area becomes a containment zone. "This option should be kept open till the last week as the situation is not static. It is dynamic," noted the bench.
The ICAI counsel argued that a standard operating procedure is in place, and the authorities will shift the exam centre in case there is a containment zone.
The bench asked ICAI that if a candidate in a containment zone is forced to appear in an exam only in November, could it be counted as appearance in July.
The ICAI counsel said that the concerns of the petitioner are "unfounded" in connection with the opt-out option and the ICAI was bound by the Chartered Accountants Act.
The ICAI counsel also submitted that if a candidate sends an email saying he/she is unable to sit in the exam due to Covid-19, it will not be questioned. "It is a group of 4-4. They can choose to appear at a later date if they are Covid-19 affected," the ICAI counsel maintained.
ICAI general secretary Rakesh Sehgal submitted before the top court that they will permit an "opt-out" to all candidates wherever the situation has deteriorated, and the only difficulty is in the change of exam centres.
The bench said that whatever notification ICAI issues must clarify about the opt-out option. "You are a professional body. Must take care of your candidates. There could be a case where one candidate is appearing in two sets of papers," said the bench.
The bench then asked ICAI to issue fresh guidelines by incorporating the suggestions made and posted the matter for further hearing on July 2.
"The ICAI counsel may take instructions and file the modified draft notification setting out the changes," said the top court.
The India Wide Parents Association had filed a PIL in the Supreme Court to seek quashing of a ICAI notification in order to allow CA aspirants to opt out of the exams to be held this year.