India Post Acting Pricey?
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.”
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.