Table of Contents
THE CONTEXT: The Post Office Amendment Bill, 2023, was recently introduced in the Rajya Sabha during the special session of Parliament.
PROVISIONS OF THE BILL:
The Bill proposes to replace the Indian Post Office Act of 1898, which was enacted to consolidate and amend laws relating to post offices in India.
- 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.
- Powers to intercept postal articles: The Act allows interception of an article being transmitted through 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 authorised by them.
The Bill instead provides that interception of an article being transmitted through post may be carried out on the following grounds:
- Security of the state
- Friendly relations with foreign states
- Public order
- Public safety
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Exemptions from liability: The Act exempts the government from any liability related to the loss, mis-delivery, 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 with regard to services by India Post under the Rules.
- Removal of offences and penalties: The Act specified various offences 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 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 offences or consequences, except one. Amounts not paid by a user will be recoverable as arrears of land revenue.
- Potential misuse of power: There is absence of clear standards for state interference in the postal department. This raises concerns about the potential misuse of power by the authorities. The Bill allows the authority to arbitrarily scrutinize and seize postal articles without concrete evidence.
- Vague procedure: The grounds specified for interception are so vague that the government can bring in anything and everything under the same. Thus, it confers unlimited power on the Central government and postal officers.
- Undermines accountability: The exemption granted to postal officers from liability for any mishaps during the delivery process undermines the accountability and efficiency of the postal services. The Bill thus incites serious doubts with regard to the privacy of citizens and the efficiency of postal services.
- Violation of fundamental rights: Non-prescription of penalty for opening postal articles against the provisions of the Bill can have severe implications on the right to privacy of stakeholders. It is in clear violation of freedom of speech and expression [Article 19 (1) (a)], the right to privacy (Article 21) and subsequent violation of the right to equality (Article 14) under the Constitution of India.
- Absolute exemption: The Bill also exempts the liability for lapses of postal officers and confers the power to prescribe liability through rules framed by the Central government, which administers the postal department. This can lead to misuse of power.
THE WAY FORWARD
- Clearance on Vagueness:There is a need to have a clarification of the vagueness in the Bill and that needs to be sort out with stakeholders’ consultation.
- Ease with Facilitation:There is a need of technological intervention in postal services to ease the process of sorting and facilitating accurate delivery of mails and parcels. For example this may include delivery of parcels by drone. This can lead to expansion of services, futuristic postal delivery for a better system.
- Rule of law: The non-arbitrariness is essential to ensure the rule of law and as the Bill is in violation of Articles 14, 19 and 21 of the Constitution of India, the state actions need to be based on valid relevant principles.
The Post Office Bill 2023 represents a vital step toward modernizing India’s postal services to align with contemporary needs. However, there are few concerns in the Bill that needs to be adequately addressed to make it a hub for various citizen-centric services.
PREVIOUS YEAR QUESTION
Q. “Recent amendments to the Right to Information Act will have a profound impact on the autonomy and independence of the Information Commission”. Discuss. (2020)
MAINS PRACTICE QUESTION
Q. Discuss the provisions of the Post Office Amendment Bill, 2023. Is it leading to the reduction in accountability and transparency in the postal department of the country? Examine.Spread the Word