The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) has told the Supreme Court that with Covid-19 cases on the decline in the country, the present time is most conducive for holding chartered accountancy (CA) examinations. Over 374,000 candidates across 847 examination centres will be taking the exams beginning July 5.
Responding to three petitions filed in the top court challenging its decision to hold CA examinations during the pandemic, the ICAI filed a short note to rebut the demand by the petitioners to either postpone the examinations or provide suitable alternatives to students not willing to appear for it next month. This note was not available before the court when the three petitions came up for hearing on Monday.
The bench of justices AM Khanwilkar, Dinesh Maheshwari and Aniruddha Bose allowed ICAI to file the note and posted the petitions for hearing on Tuesday. The court asked ICAI to prepare its response on the suggestions made in the three separate petitions filed by child rights activist Anubha Shrivastava Sahai, 22 candidates led by Sathya Narayan Perumal, and 17 candidates led by Amit Jain.
The petitions made a host of demands, including postponement of exams, candidates to be allowed change of examination centres, limitation on seating arrangements in examination halls, opt-out facility for candidates before and during the examination due to the pandemic, and an alternate attempt for those who fail to appear for the examination. One of the petitions even demanded free transportation facilities till the examination centre, free vaccination of students and invigilators, free Covid checkup at the centres, and free medical treatment for students found infected after taking the examination.
The note filed by ICAI through advocate Pramod Dayal said, “As on date, the average number of new cases is around 48,000 and declining each day. As such, it is the most conducive time to hold the exams on the dates already announced by ICAI.”
The institute said that in November 2020 when it had to conduct the November cycle of examinations, the average caseload that time was 45,000 cases .In those circumstances, the court on November 4 allowed ICAI to go ahead with the examinations by following Covid-19 protocols. The next examination cycle was due in May when the country witnessed a surge in Covid cases and the ICAI postponed it to July.
“There is no reason to believe that a responsible Institute like the ICAI would not take all possible safety precautions for conduct of the examinations,” ICAI assured the court, giving details of how 374,230 candidates will be seated in 10,820 rooms across 847 examination centres, with average 12 candidates to be seated in each room. As on date, about 282,000 candidates have downloaded the admit cards.
The ICAI had, on June 21, announced opt-out scheme for candidates who get infected with Covid-19 or someone in their family staying in the same premises has contracted the virus. The benefit was extended for those infected on or after June 21 on production of Covid-19 positive RT-PCR report. In addition, the institute also took the decision to hold re-examination at any examination centre in view of lockdown restrictions imposed by any state or Centre.
Senior advocate Ramji Srinivasan who appeared for ICAI told the court, “The note takes care of all concerns expressed in the petitions.” However, senior advocate Meenakshi Arora, appearing for one of the petitioners, asked ICAI to consider giving choice of examination centre to candidates after the ICAI had unilaterally changed the centres.
ICAI pointed out that almost 580 examination centres have less than 200 candidates while in 266 centres, the average allocation of candidates is between 200 and 300. Not all candidates are to appear on a single day as the examination schedule has been staggered throughout the entire month.
The ICAI said, “It is understandable that some of the candidates would have inhibitions in appearing for the exams, but that cannot be allowed to jeopardise the aspirations of a majority of the candidates….The petitions appear to be motivated and designed to disrupt the large scale of exams, for which all preparations have been done after meticulous planning.” With regard to suggestions on free vaccination, testing, and medical facility, it was found to be “neither possible nor practical” by the institute. The examination guidelines already provide for thermal scanning, face mask, sanitiser, and social distancing.
Expecting the third wave of Covid-19 infections to set in by September-October, the ICAI said, “Since Covid-19 is dynamic in nature, the ICAI has got this very narrow window to hold the exams in July 2021.”