In­dia Post Act­ing Pricey?

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Con­sumer fo­rum can­not do much

Mostoft­hearti­cleswrit­teninthis­column­haveem­pow­ered­con­sumers­byshar­ing­factsabout the strengths of Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act and its su­pe­ri­or­ity over many other Acts in the Con­sti­tu­tion. This ar­ti­cle is a bit dif­fer­ent. Here, we have tried to tell you a few facts and sto­ries to leave you a‘con­scious’ con­sumer while en­gag­ing with In­dia Post, since chal­leng­ing them on a‘wrong­ful’in­ten­tat­con­sumer­fo­rums­maynot­beaneasy­task. There is this strange im­mu­nity that In­dia Post en­joys.It is quite sim­i­lar to the im­mu­nity en­joyed by di­plo­mats of other coun­tries or by the top­most rep­re­sen­ta­tives of our coun­try against whom le­gal ac­tion can­not be taken with­out in­ter­ven­tions and per­mis­sions of an­other set of of­fi­cials sit­tin­gon­thetopofthe­p­ow­er­hier­ar­chy.So,acom­mon­man­may­los­ethe­mostim­por­tantlet­ter ofhis­lifebe­cause­oftheneg­li­gence­o­fanor­di­nary­post­man, but there’s not much he can do. Sec­tion6oftheIn­di­anPostalActof1898pre­ventsany­ac­tion­a­gain­st­the­p­ost­manoranyother em­ploy­ee­ofthe­p­ostof­fice­un­lessonecan­provethattheirac­tion­swere‘aw­il­ful’ac­torafraud. There have been times when in­di­vid­u­als missed their im­por­tant ex­am­i­na­tions – for ex­am­ple , be­causetheir­roll­num­ber­soren­try­pass­escould­notrea­chon­time.Many­ofy­ouwould­knowof some­body still hunt­ing for some im­por­tant doc­u­ment that was mailed to them via In­dia Post but waslostin­tran­sit,oro­fa­parcelthat­took­age­store­ach—on­ly­to­be­found­dam­age­do­rofno use­be­cause­ofthede­lay.At­the­same­time,youwoul­drarely­have­heard­ofIn­di­aPostac­cept­ing the fault or com­pen­sat­ing the suf­fer­ers as they are legally not bound to do so. Dr Prem Lata, Con­sumer Awak­en­ing

For­mer Mem­ber, CDRF-Delhi

In the first week of Jan­uary, In­dia Post was be­ing ap­plauded by the govern­ment as well as the me­dia on ac­count of its record-break­ing rev­enue growth. The postal depart­ment’s rev­enues, by way of cash on de­liv­ery (COD) con­sign­ments from ecom­merce ma­jors, had more than dou­bled in the first nine months of this fis­cal at Rs 1,000 crore, up from Rs 500 crore dur­ing the whole of 2014–15, and just Rs 100 crore in 2013–14. This is the rarest of rare growth rates that, ac­cord­ing to crit­ics, can hap­pen when a busi­ness en­gages in un­fair means or takes ad­van­tage of a loop­hole in the law or gets a sud­den mar­ket op­por­tu­nity where there is no com­pe­ti­tion.

In case of In­dia Post, both of th­ese points are rel­e­vant. While its reach in the re­motest ar­eas of the coun­try gives it an edge for ecom­merce de­liv­er­ies which no courier com­pany can match, the In­dian Postal Act, 1898—a legacy of the colo­nial era—gives it the power to shirk the many re­spon­si­bil­i­ties of a ser­vice provider.

With ecom­merce grow­ing at a rapid pace, the pres­sure of de­liv­er­ing goods to Tier II towns is in­creas­ing on In­dia Post. This means the num­ber of con­sumers en­gaged with the govern­ment-owned postal ser­vice is in­creas­ing, thereby in­creas­ing the load on the depart­ment – it is short of about 20,000 staff and hence the risk of in­ef­fi­ciency is in­creas­ing as well. In­ter­est­ingly, the depart­ment has also got the nec­es­sary nod to op­er­ate as a pay­ment bank, which will fur­ther in­crease its en­gage­ment with con­sumers.

How­ever, un­for­tu­nately, no voice has yet been raised for the au­thor­i­ties to take no­tice and make amend­ments to with­draw the im­mu­ni­ties of In­dia Post.

State­ment from Na­tional Con­sumer Fo­rum

“We deem it ap­pro­pri­ate to ob­serve that since the govern­ment of the day is keen to re­peal all an­ti­quated leg­is­la­tion, a legacy of colo­nial era, it’s high time to have a re-look at In­dian Postal Act, 1898, in par­tic­u­lar Sec­tion 6 therein, in or­der to in­fuse ac­count­abil­ity, com­pet­i­tive­ness and ef­fi­cient gov­er­nance.”

This was the ob­ser­va­tion made by the Na­tional Com­mis­sion in a case where the en­try let­ter for an ex­am­i­na­tion did not reach a can­di­date. The can­di­date had to miss a com­pet­i­tive exam for which he had pre­pared for years. The de­lay was proved, but none could be held li­able be­cause the wil­ful act or de­fault or fraud on the part of post of­fice em­ploy­ees could not be proved.

“The govern­ment shall not in­cur any li­a­bil­ity by rea­sons of loss, missed de­liv­ery or de­lay or dam­age to a postal ar­ti­cle in course of trans­mis­sion by post, nei­ther any of­fi­cer of the post of­fice shall in­cur any li­a­bil­ity by rea­son of any such loss, missed de­liv­ery, de­lay or dam­age, un­less he caused the same fraud­u­lently or by his wil­ful act or de­fault,” says In­dia Post.

A No­table Case

The Union Pub­lic Ser­vice Com­mis­sion (UPSC) had dis­patched to Arun Geo Thomas the ex­am­i­na­tion-hall ticket for tak­ing ex­am­i­na­tion for ad­mis­sion into Na­tional De­fence Academy. The en­trance exam was to be held on 18 April 2010, but the com­plainant

re­ceived the hall ticket only on 11 May 2010 and as a re­sult he could not sit for the exam. The let­ter was dis­patched by UPSC on 29 March 2010 from Delhi as per their of­fi­cial records.

Arun ap­proached the district con­sumer fo­rum and dragged his feet up to the Na­tional Com­mis­sion, which in turn put the onus on him to prove that the fraud or wil­ful act or de­fault was on the part of the postal depart­ment. As it turned out, the im­mu­nity en­joyed by the postal depart­ment not only made him miss his im­por­tant exam, but also al­lowed the depart­ment to walk free and wasted the time of the promis­ing young boy.

In this case, Na­tional Com­mis­sion while pro­nounc­ing the or­der fur­ther stated,“…al­though In­dian Postal Act is an an­ti­quated piece of leg­is­la­tion, dat­ing back to 1898, as it stands to­day in 21st cen­tury, it still grants im­mu­nity to the postal depart­ment and we can­not do much about it.”

An­other Case

In the mat­ter of se­nior su­per­in­ten­dent of post of­fice Udupi Divi­sion ver­sus Ma­ni­pal Univer­sity & Oth­ers, Na­tional Com­mis­sion again had to face the ar­gu­ment of the postal depart­ment that they en­joyed pro­tec­tion un­der Sec­tion 6 of the Act.

In this case, on 22 June 2006, Ma­ni­pal Univer­sity had sent a let­ter to the bank with a re­quest to in­voke a bank guar­an­tee in their favour – the same was valid till 27 June 2006. How­ever, the let­ter reached on 30 June 2006 and con­se­quently the univer­sity lost their Rs 550,000. The bank guar­an­tee had been with­drawn by then. At the court, the univer­sity ex­tended the ar­gu­ment that the in­or­di­nate de­lay of eight days in de­liv­ery of its let­ter to the bank was a ‘wil­ful de­fault’ on the part of the postal depart­ment and there­fore they could not es­cape their li­a­bil­ity to pay com­pen­sa­tion for the loss suf­fered by the univer­sity on ac­count of se­ri­ous lapses.

The Na­tional Com­mis­sion an­a­lysed Sec­tion 6, which was di­vided into two parts. As held by the Na­tional Com­mis­sion, “The first part pro­vides for com­plete im­mu­nity to the govern­ment ex­cept in ex­press terms, as un­der­taken by the govern­ment. In the se­cond part, an in­di­vid­ual can be held li­able only when loss, mis-de­liv­ery, de­lay or dam­age has been caused fraud­u­lently or by the wil­ful act or de­fault on the part of such an em­ployee. The onus to prove this how­ever lies on the per­son who al­leges the same.”

The Com­mis­sion stated that the postal depart­ment could not be held li­able be­cause of the im­mu­nity that the em­ploy­ees en­joyed un­der In­dian Postal Act. The Com­mis­sion was in a help­less po­si­tion and could not help ag­grieved con­sumers.

It is per­ti­nent to men­tion here that there are many such cases de­cided in favour of the postal depart­ment based on this the­ory. Even the Supreme Court, in the case of Dr Jamini Devi ver­sus Post­mas­ter of Imphal, had elab­o­rately ex­plained the pro­vi­sions of In­dian Postal Act. The court ob­served: “Ser­vices ren­dered by the Post Of­fice are merely statu­tory and there is no con­trac­tual li­a­bil­ity. By es­tab­lish­ing post of­fices and run­ning the postal ser­vice, the Cen­tral Govern­ment per­forms a gov­ern­men­tal func­tion and the Govern­ment does not en­gage in com­mer­cial trans­ac­tion with the sender of the ar­ti­cle through post and the charges for the ar­ti­cle trans­mit­ted by post is in the na­ture of charges posed by the State for the en­joy­ment of the fa­cil­i­ties pro­vided by the Postal Depart­ment and not in con­sid­er­a­tion of any com­mer­cial con­tract. The Post Of­fice can­not be equated with a com­mon car­rier.”

There is Hope, Though

The Na­tional Com­mis­sion has al­ready ap­proached the rel­e­vant min­istries and au­thor­i­ties to make amend­ments in the law. With var­i­ous parts of the Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act go­ing un­der an over­haul, the govern­ment be­com­ing strict about mal­prac­tices in gen­eral, and or­gan­i­sa­tions like Voice bring­ing rel­e­vant is­sues to the fore, there is ev­ery like­li­hood that an amend­ment will be made soon.

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