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The New Era of Mail: Unpacking the Post Office Act 2023

Post Office Act 2023

The post office bill was introduced in the Rajya Sabha and passed from the Rajya Sabha on December 4 2023 and from Lok Sabha on December 18. It has officially come into effect on June 18, 2024. The act replaces the Indian Post Office Act 1898 which has been in existence for more than 125 years. The act contains provisions that allow the central government, state government or any officer appointed by them to intercept, open or detain any item, and deliver it to the customs authorities in case of public emergency or in the interest of public safety and tranquillity. The act also states that the director general of the postal service will be appointed as head of India Post. He will have the power to make regulations on various matters including tariffs for services and supply of postage stamps.

Key Highlights of the Act

  • The post office is exempt from liability:The bill exempts the post office and its officer from any liability by reason of any loss, miss delivery, delay or damage in the course of any service provided by the post office except such liability as may be prescribed.
  • Removal of offences and penalties:The bill removes all the penalties and offences under the 1898 Act. For example, offences committed by post office officials such as misconduct, fraud, and theft, among others have been deleted entirely.
  • Removes the centre's exclusivity:The present bill has removed section 4 of the 1898 act, which allowed the centre the exclusive privilege of conveying all letters by post. However, the courier service has been bypassing the 1898 law by simply calling their couriers "documents" and "parcels" rather than "letters".
  • Regulate private courier services:The act for the first time regulates private courier services by bringing them under its ambit.

Key Issues with the Act

  • The Act 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 restriction under the constitution.
  • The Act exempts India Post from liability for lapses in postal services. Liability may be prescribed through rules by the central government, which may also administer India Post. This may lead to a conflict of interest.
  • The Act does not specify any offences 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.

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