What are the key features and the legislative history of Post Office Bill 2023? It aims to repeal the Indian Post Office Act, of 1898, which has been in existence for 125 years. Read here to learn more.
The Rajya Sabha on December 4, 2023, passed the Post Office Bill, 2023, which seeks to replace the colonial-era Indian Post Office Act, of 1898.
According to the government, the legislation is an attempt to ensure the effective functioning of the Postal Department as a messenger service and as a provider of banking facilities.
The bill has been facing opposition with concerns that the provision in the Bill that allows the Centre to intercept, open, or detain any postal item lacks safeguards and is centered around an “ambiguous definition”.
Other Opposition leaders also opposed the Bill for violating the right to privacy and encouraging state surveillance.
History of Post Office Acts
The postal system in India has a long history dating back to ancient times. During the British colonial period, the postal system was established to facilitate communication and administration. The British East India Company introduced reforms to the postal system.
- Before the Indian Post Office Act of 1898, the British introduced the Postal Act of 1866, which aimed at unifying and regulating postal services in India.
- The Indian Post Office Act of 1898 was a significant piece of legislation during the British colonial era. It outlined the legal framework for postal services in India.
- Another important legislation related to the post office was the Indian Post Office Act of 1908, which amended certain provisions of the 1898 Act.
- The Indian Post Office Act, 1898, underwent a comprehensive revision, and the Indian Post Office Act, 1978, came into existence. This legislation continued to govern postal services in India for several years.
- The Department of Posts (DOP) Act, 1986, was enacted to provide statutory status to the Department of Posts. This act aimed at better management and organization of postal services.
Read: Postal History of India
Post Office Bill 2023
The Bill replaces the Indian Post Office Act, of 1898. The Act regulates India Post, a departmental undertaking of the central government.
- The government will not have exclusive privilege over conveying letters. Services to be provided by India Post will be prescribed under the Rules.
- The Director General of Postal Services will be appointed to head India Post. He will have powers to make regulations on various matters including tariffs for services and supply of postage stamps.
- The government may intercept an article transmitted through India Post on specified grounds, including the security of the state and public order.
- India Post will not incur any liability concerning its services, except any liability prescribed through Rules.
How is the new Bill different from the old act?
Exclusive privileges of the central government:
- The Act provides that wherever the central government establishes posts, it will have the exclusive privilege of conveying letters by post, as well as incidental services such as receiving, collecting, sending, and delivering letters. The Bill does not provide for such privileges.
- The Act provides for the issuance of postage stamps as per the prescribed Rules.
- The Bill also states that India Post will have the exclusive privilege of issuing postage stamps.
Services to be prescribed:
- The Act specifies the services provided by India Post to include: (i) delivery of postal articles including letters, postcards, and parcels, and (ii) money orders.
- The Bill provides that India Post will provide services, as may be prescribed by the central government.
Director General to make regulations regarding services:
- The Act, as well as the Bill, provides for the appointment of the Director General of Postal Services.
- Under the Act, the Director General has powers to decide the time and manner of delivery of postal services.
- The Bill provides that the Director General may make regulations regarding any activity necessary to provide postal services. He may also make regulations regarding charges for services, and supply and sale of postage stamps and postal stationery.
Powers to intercept postal articles:
- The Act allows interception of an article being transmitted through a post on certain grounds.
- An interception may be carried out on the occurrence of any public emergency, or in the interest of public safety or tranquillity. Such interceptions may be carried out by the central government, state governments, or any officer specially authorized by them.
- An intercepted shipment can be detained or disposed of by the officer in charge. The officer also has powers to open, detain, or destroy shipments carrying items prohibited under the Act or any other law.
The Bill instead provides that interception of an article being transmitted through post may be carried out on the following grounds:
- the security of the state,
- friendly relations with foreign states,
- public order,
- public safety, or
- contravention of the provisions of the Bill or any other laws. An officer empowered by the central government through a notification may carry out interception.
Examination of postal articles prohibited under law or liable for duty:
- Under the Act, an officer in charge may examine a postal article if he suspects that it contains goods which are prohibited, or are liable to be paid duty upon.
- The Bill removes the powers of examination. It instead provides that in such cases, the central government may empower an officer of India Post to deliver the postal article to the customs authority or any other specified authority. The authority will then deal with the item in question.
Exemptions from liability:
- The Act exempts the government from any liability related to the loss, misdelivery, delay, or damage to a postal article. This does not apply where the liability is undertaken by the central government in express terms. Officers are also exempt from such liability unless they have acted fraudulently or wilfully.
- The Bill retains these exemptions. It also provides that the central government may prescribe liability about services by India Post under the Rules.
Removal of offenses and penalties:
- The Act specified various offenses and penalties, all of which were removed by the Jan Vishwas (Amendment of Provisions) Act, 2023.
- For instance, theft, misappropriation, or destruction of postal articles by an officer of the Post Office was punishable with imprisonment of up to seven years and a fine.
- Sending certain prohibited items through post was punishable with imprisonment up to one year, a fine, or both.
- The Bill does not provide for any offenses or consequences, except one. Amounts not paid by a user will be recoverable as arrears of land revenue.
Issues with Post Office Bill 2023
- The Bill does not specify procedural safeguards for interception of articles transmitted through India Post. Lack of safeguards may violate the freedom of speech and expression and the right to privacy of individuals.
- The grounds for interception include ‘emergency’, which may be beyond reasonable restrictions under the Constitution.
- The Bill exempts India Post from liability for lapses in postal services. Liability may be prescribed through Rules by the central government, which also administers India Post. This may lead to a conflict of interest.
- The Bill does not specify any offenses and penalties. For instance, there are no consequences for the unauthorized opening of postal articles by a postal officer. This may have adverse implications for the right to privacy of consumers.
-Article by Swathi Satish