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October 28, 2020

SC agrees to hear plea seeking directions for upcoming CA Examinations on 2nd November

by CA Shivam Jaiswal in ICAI, Legal Court Judgement

SC agrees to hear plea seeking directions for upcoming CA Examinations on 2nd November

The economic impact of the 2020 coronavirus pandemic in India has been largely disruptive. The lockdown though necessary has led to a disastrous impact on the economy. With an ever-increasing corona virus cases, lockdown was considered as an only solution to flatten the curve. However, the measures which were implemented to avoid a human disaster, have in turn led to the birth of several issues such as unemployment, recession, hindrance to economic growth, financial instability and so on.

Various state-level board exams, recruitment exams, university-level exams, professional exams and entrance exams were postponed across the country due to the coronavirus outbreak and national lockdown. The education system in schools, colleges and universities across the country has been severely impacted due to the ongoing situation. The CA exams held by Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) were also postponed because of this very reason. The ICAI postponed the CA exam scheduled to be held in May and they were decided to be held in June-July. However, later ICAI decided to cancel May 2020 examinations and merge the May 2020 attempt with November 2020 examinations.

Now, the ICAI, has again postponed the November 2020 exams due to the Bihar elections by two weeks. Further, the ICAI is also offering an ‘opt-out’ option for students who are infected with COVID-19 or have symptoms of the disease. Students will have to provide a self-declaration to avail the option. It will continue throughout the November exams. These students will be allowed to carry forward their candidature with a due carryover of all benefits already available to students including the fee paid and exemptions for next examination. The next exams will be held in May 2021.

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The CA exams for this round are scheduled to begin on 21st November, 2020. The Supreme Court today said that it will hear on 2nd November, 2020 a plea seeking a standard operating procedure to be adopted for the CA exams by the ICAI this year. Earlier a PIL was also filed in the Supreme Court seeking quashing of the notification issued by the ICAI allowing Chartered Accountant (CA) aspirants to “opt-out” of CA exams this year due to COVID-19 and related issues. The present plea says that the concerned authorities have not taken steps for ensuring the health concerns of the stakeholders.

What was submitted in the petition?

  • The Supreme Court Bench of Justicesheard the petition filed by some CA aspirants on 27th October.
  • The plea says that a significantly higher number of candidates are expected to take the exam in this round on account of the May cycle of exams standing cancelled. This fact, along with the cap of 100 persons for congregations imposed by the Union Ministry of Home Affairs, gives rise to the concerns of the petitioners.
  • The plea stated that ICAI refused to acknowledge the cap imposed on large gatherings when a query on this issue was raised by a stakeholder.
  • The CA examination is scheduled to be held between November 21, 2020 and December 14, 2020. The petitioners claimed that with the exams scheduled to begin in less than a month, ICAI had not taken adequate steps for holding of the exams in line with health guidelines issued amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • The plea calls for uniform safety guidelines to be put in place across the country, and prays that all candidates taking the exam be provided with equal facilities.

Course of action suggested in the plea

  • While pointing out that the ICAI is yet to notify the safety guidelines and SOP for proper implementation of these guidelines, the plea also makes a suggestion as regards symptomatic candidates.
  • It is suggested that a symptomatic candidate should be referred to the nearest health centre and that isolation rooms may be provided in each exam centre, and that symptomatic candidates be given an opportunity to take the exam at a later stage.
  • The plea also suggests that the ICAI must factor in the possibility of a sudden surge in COVID-19 cases, and prepare a mitigation plan for the same.
  • It also states that while additional exam centres are required to be set up, travel and accommodation facilities must also be provided for candidates expected to travel for the exam.
  • Appropriate directions may be issued to treat the e-Admit Cards, as E-passes for free movement of such candidates in containment/ red zones during examinations or alternative arrangements such as revised dates for the candidates from containment zones may be declared.
  • Specific and reasonable arrangements to be made to accommodate candidates appearing during the state elections like Bihar & Madhya Pradesh, as the exam date and poll dates are coinciding.
  • If not for everyone, then at least for the candidates, who are either residents of Containment Zone, tested positive after attempting one or two exams or unable to travel because of the restrictions in the said area of residence, the ICAI ought to come up with alternate solutions, including but not limited to Online Examinations for such students, upon submission of proof to the effect.
  • Free and or/reasonable accommodation and transport for candidates

Other issues pointed out in the plea

  • It is further pointed out that an option for candidates to change their exam centres within the same city is not provided as yet. The Supreme Court had earlier observed that the ICAI should consider permitting the students to opt out of the exams till the last day, as the situation around COVID-19 is dynamic and not static.
  • Correction window does not provide an option to the candidates to change their exam centre within the same city on account of any impediment, caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, that may prevent them from approaching the exam centre already assigned to them.
  • ICAI has failed to make any announcement that would ensure that arrangements have been made in order to accommodate a significant number of additional exam centres in big densely populated cities such as New Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata etc.
  • Additional exam centres are required in all districts to mitigate risks and travel for candidates residing in other areas.

November, 2020 attempt is the last attempt under the old syllabus for candidates appearing for CA IPCC exams. Thus, in the event any candidate is refrained from taking the CA IPCC exams under the old syllabus on account of Covid-19 restrictions, ICAI ought to explore alternate methods to extend the validity of the old syllabus of CA IPCC on humanitarian grounds. The Court asked the petitioners, represented by Advocates Bansuri Swaraj and Astha Sharma, to serve a copy of the plea to ICAI and the Centre. The matter will be heard on November 2.

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