ICAI fined with Rs 20,000 for withholding result of CA student by HC
In Risha Lodha D/O Bhagwat Singh Lodha Vs Institute Of Chartered Accountants of India (Rajasthan High Court), Institute of Chartered Accountants of India (ICAI) lost case against the CA student in the matter of witholding of results in the name of derogatory remark on social media. The Rajasthan High Court also awarded Risha Lodha with the cost of litigation of Rs 20,000. Also, directed ICAI to send original mark-sheet and certificate of passing CA Intermediate Examination. The Court feels that action of the ICAI was rather over bearing or high handed.
The petitioner, a young girl-student of 21 years of age, has knocked at the doors of this Court being aggrieved by extreme oppressive action of a professional body-The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, which enjoys a long earned reputation of setting high standards of professional excellence, discipline and meeting the timeline especially when it comes to holding of examinations and declaring results.
Due to COVID Pandemic, for CA Exams May 2020 and November 2020, many students took to social media, requesting the ICAI to postpone the CA examinations, on concerns about COVID safety provisions in the exam halls. Many ICAI members supported the cause, leading to Twitter trends condemning the institute for ignoring the requests of the students. This has led to the ICAI issuing an advisory asking students and members to refrain from any objectionable social media posts against the institute.
Petitioner wrote 1st e-mail to ICAI
Petitioner wrote a e-mail to ICAI, regarding the situation of spread of Covid-19 and cautioned that if the examinations are held, it will lead to exponential growth in number of Covid cases. Though the petitioner made many emotional comments, but the thrust of her e-mail was only to suggest that online infrastructure be developed so that all levels of CA Examinations be conducted online. Petitioner’s e-mail dated 20.11.2020 is as follows-
“I want to give exams. If the exams happen, I will appear.
But If the exams happen, the no. of cases are bound to sky-rocket.
Sir, with all due respect, Do you not understand the seriousness of the situation or are you just ignorant? I honestly feel the only way forward is to develop online infrastructure and conduct all levels of CA exams online.
From what we know (research & statistics), jan-feb is gonna be worse (conducting exams physically then is a far-fetched dream).
Even if the exams start, they won’t conclude successfully. More situations like this (curfew/lockdown) will arise in between exams and a lot of people (students, invigilators, in transit, icai staff, staff at the centre and their families) will get infected.
“Precaution is better than cure”
PLEASE RETHINK YOUR DECISIONS
What happens if a student in my class gives say 2 exams in the first group and then opts out.
Now it may be due to his lack of preparation or that he himself or his family is infected. What will happen next? Will the other students in the class be informed? Morever how will you know if he opted out because he has covid or just symptoms (could be a viral fever) What happens to all the students if the invigilator gets infected?
I’m not expecting a reply but please go through this once
Thank you for your time.
I will get back to studying now.”
Read Also: ICAI postponed CA exams Read announcement
On 21.11.2020, petitioner and her father got infected with Covid as evident from the reports. Due to this, she opted out of the November exams and was thus, issued admit card to appear in the January 2021 examinations held from 22.1.2021 to 7.2.2021. On 22.2.2021, she received an email from the Dy. Secretary (Examinations), informing that her result had been put on hold, because of derogatory remarks she had made in her e-mail. An explanation was simultaneously sought as to why disciplinary proceedings not be initiated against her for the same.
Petitioner 2nd e-mail to ICAI
No sooner had the petitioner received the notice aforesaid than she sent an e-mail (in the evening of 22.2.2021 itself) expressing her unconditional apology for her inappropriate remarks. In addition thereto, she clearly wrote that she lost her cool because of constant delay due to Pandemic and also because of safety concerns of her and her father. It will not be out of place to reproduce in extenso, the apologetical e-mail, which she had sent:
I’m so sorry for my inappropriate remarks. I completely failed to think about my words and ended up saying something hurtful and insensitive. I just lost my cool because of the situation i.e. constant delays due to the pandemic and safety concerns regarding my family, and now that I think of it, I acted in a very silly and childlike manner. I’m truly ashamed of myself. I wish I could undo the damage I have done. Sadly, I can’t. Hence, an apology letter.
Please forgive me. I promise that I will not behave in such a manner again. I did not in any way intend to hurt or harm the institute and its stakeholders. I sincerely request you to not initiate a disciplinary proceeding against me as I really regret my actions and will not repeat this in the future.
I apologize for all the inconvenience and my reactions.
After that various e-mails were exchanged between petitioner and ICAI in the meantime, but the same are not of much significance. On the result date, she was popped with message on ICAI result website “ADOPTED UNFAIR MEANS. LETTER FOLLOWS”. After that personal hearings were also made in Jaipur, but with no outcome.
The petitioner preferred the present writ petition on 5.4.2021, oppugning respondents’ actions. When the matter came up to Rajasthan High Court for admission hearing, simultaneous with the issuance of notices, the Court had directed ICAI to produce petitioner’s result in a sealed envelop.
During the entire hearing, Mr. Vikas Balia, learned counsel appearing for the petitioner, maintained that the email written by the petitioner could not be said to be derogatory in any manner eliciting disciplinary action.
Mr. Manoj Bhandari and Mr. Anjay Kothari, learned counsel appeared for ICAI, did not have much to defend the impugned action, except that petitioner’s email dated 20.11.2020 reflected disorderly behaviour on her part. He added that petitioner’s contentious e-mail was unwarranted, particularly a day before the scheduled date of examination.
In the opinion of this Court, there is hardly anything in the e-mail, for which it can be alleged/ considered as or even construed to be derogatory. May be, the petitioner could have been more calibrated in her emotional utterness and could have avoided some of the sentences, but then also, this Court is unable to countenance ICAI’ stand that the contents of her mail were derogatory. The very initiation of the proceedings against the petitioner alleging that the e-mail contains derogatory remarks was uncalled for and unwarranted. On the contrary, this Court feels that action of the ICAI was rather over bearing or high handed.
While apologizing in the another reply letter, she had even gone to the extent of writing that “I am truly ashamed of myself.”
“With great power comes great responsibility”. Thus, the Institute which is adorned with enormous power to elevate or uplift the lives of vulnerable & struggling students, is required to practice greater restraint in invoking its powers especially against the students. Instant case called for not just restraint but absolute abstinence from initiating any action against the petitioner, particularly when she had submitted a beseeching response.
But for the reasons best known to the Examination Committee, instead of burrying the hatchet, it literally opened a battle-front and issued a notice to the petitioner on 7.3.2021 and summoned her to Jaipur to defend her cause in furtherance of the notice dated 22.2.2021 (vide which, the Institute had called upon the petitioner to explain why the disciplinary proceedings not be initiated against her for derogatory remarks she had made).
It is rather disturbing that the petitioner was personally heard on 10.3.2021 yet no order was ever communicated/supplied to her. She came to know that her result had been cancelled that too, citing “adopted unfair means”.
What is more intriguing and perturbing is, that in subsequent mail exchange, the Examination Committee sought to improve upon the earlier reason for cancelling the result by stating that same had occasioned on account of her making derogatory remarks in the examinations. Though the said e-mail indicated that a hard copy would follow, but the same has never seen the light of the day.
The impugned decision cancelling petitioner’s result is nothing short of colourable exercise of powers. It also showcases vindictiveness of respondent Committee.
The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India is a statutory body. Hence, 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 a citizens guaranteed by Article 19(1)(a) of our Constitution.
The writ petition is thus, allowed with the cost of litigation, quantified at Rs.20,000/- by way of demand draft to the petitioner within a period of 30 days from. The Institute is directed to send original mark-sheet and certificate of passing CA Intermediate Examination to the petitioner, forthwith. It will be required of the respondent-Institute to appropriately reflect petitioner’s result on its official portal.
While hoping that in future the Institute will not take any such action and take any criticism in positive stride, this Court hastens to add that a professional body like the respondent Institute should introspect and ensure that its over enthusiasm of attaining professional excellence and endevours of setting high standards of discipline should not silence rather stifle the speech of a student or its member in the manner that has been done in the present case.
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