The Indian Postal Service has come a long way since it began. However, despite innovation and progress, the efficiency in delivery still seems to be an issue. Consumers availing themselves of such services from the Department come under the purview of the Consumer Fora and are liable for compensation as they pay a fee towards it. Nevertheless, till recently, the Fora had taken a very different approach on the matter.

In 2002, the NCDRC passed a judgement in the case of Head Post Master, Haryana vs. Vijay Rattan Aggarwal. Aggarwal had passed the preliminary examination for Uttar Pradesh Civil Services, and had sent the papers by speed post. However, the post did not reach on time, his application was time-barred and he could not take the exams. Aggarwal approached the Consumer Fora to seek justice. The National Commission relied on Section 6 of the Indian Postal Act, which states that the Postal Department is not liable to those who use their services for damage or delay, unless the delay is malicious or intended, and ruled that under the confines of the Indian Postal Act, and the limitation of the Consumer Protection Act (not going beyond statutory provisions), the complainant would only be refunded the Rs. 20 he paid towards the speed post, and the maximum compensation of Rs. 1,000 as the post contained two bank drafts.

Till a few years ago, this verdict was cited as precedent, with any matter connected to speed post, as we can see in the case of Speed Post (Manager) vs. Laxman Singh, where the court stated the compensation must be double the speed post charges, or Rs. 1,000, which ever is lesser. In fact, the National Commission stated “Under any event, the compensation must not be more than Rs. 1,000”.

In 2011, in the case of Post Master General, Kerala vs. Kiron Rasheed, where the complainant incurred additional expenses on air travel as the speed post reached him late, the Postal Department tried to take shelter under Section 6 of the Indian Postal Act. However, the National Commission observed that that provision was not connected in any form with the modern forms of transactions such as speed post, money transfer, etc. and went on to uphold the decision of the District Forum, which had earlier awarded refund of the airline tickets. This verdict is important as the National Commission approached the matter in a more rational manner and thus the postal department could not escape liability.

Very recently, in a similar instance, where Mr. Singh lost his opportunity to apply for the job of Sub-Inspector due to delay in delivery of speed post, and the Postal Department cited the Gujjar rebellion as the reason for the delay, the National Commission observed that a speed post was something people used in times of emergencies or dire need. Hence, any delay was unacceptable, as it defeated the very purpose for which the service existed. The Commission stated that the objective of paying more was to ensure timely delivery and since it did not happen, Mr. Singh was entitled for a compensation of Rs. 20,000.

It is important for service providers, including the public utilities, to be balanced in their approach so that the public too stand to gain.

(The writer works with CAG, which offers free advice on consumer complaints to its members. For membership details / queries contact 2491 4358 / 2446 0387 or helpdesk@cag.org.in)

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