(Written in October,2020 and updated in December, 2021)
The Company Secretary (CS) course attached itself to my to-do things in the year 1996 when I saw its syllabus and books after the enrolment of my elder daughter in it. I immediately registered myself in the course after observing that for completing the entire course it was enough for me to write only four papers in Intermediate stage and six papers in Final stage, after availing the exemptions available for a Cost Accountant and that even the papers I had to write were already familiar for me.
I passed one of the two groups of Intermediate stage without much difficulty. But before I could clear the other group, the syllabus was revised and in the new permutations and combinations of papers, my passing of one group just vanished. So, on De Novo registration in 2001, I had to write both the groups. I passed one of the groups again immediately but before I could appear for the other group, I got extremely busy with our daughters’ weddings, amidst my already tight household and work life. The registration expired again in 2006 without my passing the other group of Intermediate stage of CS examinations.
When, at last, I could find time to pursue the course in 2015, I had to register like a new student, as I had not renewed my earlier registration within the permitted time limit. The syllabus had undergone a thorough change in the meantime. This time the stages have been named as Executive and Professional instead of the earlier nomenclature of Intermediate and Final. I could pass one group again in first attempt, thus passing one group of CS first stage for the third time. Then, when the results of December,2017 examinations were declared in February,2018, Thank God, they carried the happy news of my passing the other group and thus the Executive stage.
I enthusiastically enrolled for all the three groups of Professional stage immediately. I had to write six papers of which two papers, viz. ‘Information Technology and System Audit’ and ‘Banking Law and Practice’ were my cups of tea in my career in Indian overseas Bank in Information Technology Department. For the familiar two papers I just gave a glance. I prepared for the other four papers earnestly and got me thoroughly acquainted with Company Law,2013 and the allied subjects. Over the years my sleep had stabilised at five hours a day at the maximum generally and I do not need an afternoon nap. Throughout the study time, I would have a pen in my hand, to underline, to take notes, to recollect, to compare and contrast and to summarise. Also, I took maximum advantage of internet to refer to bare acts in Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA), Government of India and Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) websites. I studied the monthly student bulletins and the Chartered Secretary journals thoroughly. My reading of the journals of Management Accountant of The Institute of Cost Accountants of India and Bank Quest of Indian Institute of Banking and Finance helped to supplement my knowledge regarding Governance, Sustainability, Banking, latest FINTECH developments etc. I kept pace with latest amendments and case laws by following them closely in the columns of the newspaper, The Hindu. I used to cut relevant and important news updates and paste them in a diary. I downloaded previous years’ question papers from the ICSI site and I could answer them reasonably well. My goal was to clear all the six papers in first attempt. I dedicated myself to the preparation as if I was doing a penance.
I appeared for the model tests conducted prior to December, 2018 examinations for four papers, viz. Secretarial Audit, Compliance Management and Due Diligence (SACMDD), Corporate Restructuring, Valuation and Insolvency (CRVI), Information Technology and System Audit (ITSA) and Drafting, Appearance and Pleading (DAP). My confidence was reinforced as I passed in all the four papers with an aggregate of 55 percentage. Examiners had recorded special words of recognition in the answer sheets of second and third papers in which I had obtained 60 percentage and above.
After writing the December 2018 examinations, I thought that I could get 45 percentage for sure but that there was scope for getting the required 50 percentage too. But alas, when the results came on 25th February,2019, I was disappointed that I hadn’t passed in any of the groups and that my aggregate percentage was only 36. The insult added to injury was my getting marks much below my expectations in the papers which I had been thinking as my cups of tea.
I was so intrigued by the marks that I applied for verification of marks first and then for copies of the answer sheets in two papers where my marks went below 40 percentage. I could see only where my marks went low but did not have any further remedy.
I prepared rigorously for the second time, this time giving a thorough go through to my familiar subjects too. The Companies Act, 2013 originally had 470 sections and subsequently some sections were deleted after the implementation of Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), 2016. I took an unused diary of 2016 and allotted each date page starting from January 1st, as per its cardinal number, to the corresponding section number upto first 366 sections of Companies Act,2013 and some consolidated pages containing ten sections per page for later sections. Whenever I came across about a section in text books or in journals or in Newspaper, I made a note about it in the corresponding page of diary. Since the diary contained a planner page for every month, I filled up the date boxes too simultaneously to have a bird’s eye view of about thirty sections at a glance! I enjoyed the preparations for the second attempt too as they helped to understand many nuances and the subjects became clearer. I felt like being in a worship. I appeared for June 2019 Examinations and thought that I could pass in one or two groups at least. But results revealed that I got 39 percentage in the aggregate without passing any group.
My sincere preparations continued in a committed way for December 2019 examinations too. Study materials supplied by the institute were two years old by then and they had become stale, as Companies Act, 2013 and Insolvency and Bankruptcy Code (IBC), 2016 were undergoing many amendments in their nascent stages. So I used the study materials sparingly but depended a lot on Chartered Secretary, Student Company Secretary, Management Accountant and Bank Quest journals for latest updates. Legal World portions from Chartered Secretary were cut and preserved for future references too. Each IBC case reported in the business page of the daily newspaper, The Hindu, was thoroughly gone through by me for their nuances at adjudication and at appeal levels. Important verdicts were cut and preserved.
After writing the examinations I was sure about getting not less than 40 percentage individually in each paper and at least 50 percentage in the aggregate meaning that I was sure of passing the course at that time. But the results were disappointing that time too. I had obtained 40 percentage in the aggregate without clearing any group. Marks were lesser than those of pevious attempt in most of the papers! My children who used to take pride even for my small successes seemed to sympathise with me and started telling me that I didn’t need to strain myself in that way. My husband didn’t tell about foregoing the course but cautioned me that I shouldn’t strain myself a lot at the age of sixty plus. I felt like being in cross roads without knowing the direction. After a brief brooding, I decided to feel optimistic at the total marks that time being 5 more than that of the previous attempt!
The volatile nature of the Acts is brought out well in the article, ‘Regulatory Reformation in India – Catalysing Commerce?’ in the April, 2020 issue of Chartered Secretary by Shri Suresh Viswanathan, FCS when he picturises the trend with figures as, ‘According to the MCA Annual Report 2018-19, the ministry during the period, had issued 77 Notices and 10 General Circulars as part of the administration of Companies Act 2013, approximately 1 change every 4 days on an average’. The frequent updates and occasional reversals were proving difficult not only for industries and practitioners but also for students.
I couldn’t help wondering had I not understood the subjects well enough for a 50 percentage. The one culprit for my marks going lower than my expectations is being visualised by me as ‘my not so good handwriting’. After my latest attempt I had decided that I would not appear in all the groups together any more as that was very exhausting towards the end of examination schedule.
I had not enrolled for June 2020 examinations as our son had booked for our travel on 5th April to USA to participate in his new home’s Grihapravesam celebrations on April 17th,2020. But subsequenty, as Governments were asking people to avoid unnecessary travels due to COVID-19 pandemic, the airlines started cancelling their scheduled flights. Our flight for our travel on 5th April to USA was cancelled by the airlines in the third week of March. Our son rescheduled the Grihapravesam celebrations to June second week. When he tried to schedule our flight to USA, I requested him to book the tickets for travel on 10th June. As there was still time for enrolling for June examinations, I enrolled for the first two modules of the examinations so that I could finish the examinations with June 9th and proceed to USA.
I was thankful to God that he is giving me an opportunity to write the examinations before I forget the subjects much. It is generally said that ‘knowledge is that which remains even after one has forgotten what one has read’. It appeared more relevant in my senior citizen age. I have a thorough working index of the knowledge of the contents but there is a need for a recent visit of the contents to be sure before putting them in action. Actually, this may be the position any successful practising Company Secretary is in practically.
The tickets for our travel on June 10th to USA was in vogue only a for short period of time as international flights were cancelled in India indefinitely. Also, the June,2020 CS examinations were first postponed to July, then to August and finally they were merged with Deceber,2020 examinations.
When unlock conditions as of September 1st unfolded, we observe that there is a general extra caution about people of sixty five years of age and above leading a normal life. There is an advisory by Tamilnadu Government in letting them inside temples and in Public Libraries. Also, there is a general caution about the possibility of onset of a second wave of COVID-19 after monsoons. Under the circumstances I am not sure whether the December,2020 examinations will take place as scheduled and what will be my personal chances of appearing for the examinations. I fantasise that ICSI revisits the earlier valuations of answer sheets of senior citizen candidates like me and do some moderations if there is scope. I fantasise that ICSI at least makes arrangements to conduct the examinations online.
In the recently recast ‘Vaaliba Vaali’ programme in Pothikai TV, Tamil Cinema lyricist and Poet Vaali said in the concluding episode, ‘There is no point in making a superficial attempt. You have to go to the roots to learn and do anything. That will give good results definitely. Even if it does not give good results, we will have the satisfaction that we did it’. That had been my motto too all the times. I have the satisfaction that I sincerely prepared for the Professional stage of CS examinations, with an aim of clearing it in first attempt and I enjoyed the preparation times thoroughly. I felt like doing a worship or penance during those times. The preparation times made me get lost in the studies. Those satisfactions are enough for me.