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‘You cannot be rigid’: SC asks ICAI to allow students to opt out of CA exams at any time

The three-judge bench said that since Covid-19 is an evolving situation, students should be given the option to opt out of exams until the last day.

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New Delhi: The Supreme Court on Monday asked the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) to rework its opt-out option for exams, to be held between 29 July and 16 August, in a way that is “flexible and not rigid” given the Covid-19 pandemic.

A three-judge bench led by Justice A.M. Khanwilkar asked the ICAI to bring out a fresh notification that will allow a student to opt out of the tests at any time, even once the tests start. As per the existing notification, the last date for a student to exercise this option is 30 June. But with the court order, the deadline will stand revised.

The bench was hearing a petition filed by the India Wide Parents Association that challenged the opt-out scheme and sought more centres for CA exam. “There can be a situation where a student opted for a centre but that becomes a containment zone. Can the student opt for a last-minute change of centre?” asked the bench, while suggesting the ICAI redo its notification.

Advocate Alok Alakh Srivastava contested the ICAI’s stand that its notification on the opt-out option would not cause any prejudice to the students.

The court fixed 2 July to hear the matter again.

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‘Situation is dynamic and not static’

ICAI’s counsel, senior advocate Ramji Srinivasan, brushed aside the petitioner’s concern about the opt-out option and termed it unfounded. He said the institute was bound by the Chartered Accountants Act.

When asked if the students had the option to change their exam centres, he submitted it was allowed. But the bench was of the view that this option should also be open till the last day of the exams. “The change of centre should not be frozen but kept open for all (students) till the end. You need to be flexible; you cannot be rigid,” the bench told the counsel. Srinivasan sought time to seek instructions on this proposition.

The ICAI said its policy allowed a student to be accommodated to another exam centre if the one chosen by him or her falls in the containment zone. And in the absence of such an option, the student shall be accommodated in the November exam cycle. However, the court stated that in such a scenario, the ICAI should declare that the student passed the exam in July and not November. But Srinivasan argued that this would not impact the aspirants because they would be able to go ahead with the course either way.

The limited window for opting out of exams was kept to have a sense of certainty as regards the number of students taking the exams, the ICAI explained to the court. As of 27 June, nearly 52,000 students have chosen to opt out of the exam, the bench was informed.

Yet, the court felt “any person not appearing for the exam should be treated as an opt-out candidate,” and should be adjusted in November cycle. Srinivasan argued that such a liberty can be extended to a student who genuinely suffers from a Covid-19 related difficulty, making it impossible for them to write the papers in July.

The bench pointed out that the pandemic is a constantly evolving situation, and so would the containment zones be. “The situation due to pandemic is dynamic and not static. So the option of opt-out must be open till the last exam,” the judges said.

As the senior advocate sought time to issue a fresh notification, after incorporating the suggestions, the court said that while doing so, the ICAI ought to keep in mind all relevant Covid protocol with regard to physical distancing and hygiene, as well as the school board exam rules issued by the Ministry of Home Affairs.

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