High court slams ICAI for withholding student’s results

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MUMBAI: The Rajasthan high court has come down heavily on the Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) for withholding the results of a 21-year-old student who had passed the CA intermediate exam but was disqualified for allegedly adopting “unfair means” during exams. The court also said that a professional body like ICAI should not silence or stifle the speech of a student or its member like it did to this student.
In the 20-page order, judge Dinesh Mehta also ordered ICAI to declare the result which would show the student, Risha Lodha, as having passed the exam. It also imposed a Rs 20,000 cost on ICAI but did not impose any exemplary penalty on the CA governing body.
The decision by the governing body for CAs was based on an email that Lodha had written ahead of the intermediate exams that was scheduled in November 2020. Due to fears of catching Covid infections during the physical exam, the female student had requested ICAI to develop an online system for such exams. Following this, ICAI had asked Lodha to apologise to the CA governing body, sent her a show-cause notice and to present herself in front of its disciplinary committee in Jaipur.

Even though the student had apologised to ICAI and presented herself in front of its disciplinary committee, the governing body had withheld the results. When on March 26 this year Lodha checked her results on the ICAI website, she found that her results were cancelled and marked ‘Adopted unfair means’. After that, Lodha moved the Jodhpur bench of the Rajasthan HC.
In its order, the judge remarked that “although the chronological facts are a handful, their culmination has been dreadful and conclusion thereof could have been doomful”. Among various shortcomings on the part of ICAI, the judge pointed out that Lodha’s email — which the CA governing body had termed as “derogatory” — was more “emotional” in nature. He also pointed out that the show-cause notice to Lodha did not mention that a possible punishment could be the cancellation of her results. Citing an SC order of 2014, the judge said “a show-cause notice should necessarily state the action which is proposed to be taken against the noticee”.
It also said that as ICAI is a statutory body, “its decisions, actions and adjudication are supposed to conform to the standards expected of state or instrumentality of a state”. “A state that suppresses freedom of speech and inflicts or imposes extreme punishment treating an act or attempt of criticism and/or if it treats any suggestion for improvement as a challenge to its authority or supremacy is a state that disregards, rather violates, fundamental rights of citizens guaranteed by…our constitution.” The court also hoped that in future ICAI “will not take any such action and take any criticism in a positive stride”.