Rajya Sabha passed the Post Office Bill on Monday, which repeals and replaces the Post Office Act of 1898. The Bill, according to the government, will ensure the effective functioning of the Postal Department as a messenger service and as a provider of banking facilities.
The Opposition, citing the provisions empowering any officer to intercept, open or detain any item in the interest of the security of the State, expressed concern that such free-hand to officers will harm the right to privacy.
Piloting the Bill, Communications Minister Ashwini Vaishnaw said postal services had become irrelevant during the UPA regime and it came to a point where they were almost phased out. “This new legislation is a reflection of the way post offices and postmen have been transformed into a service-delivery institution from being merely a mail-delivery mechanism, and the post offices have been practically converted into banks,” Mr. Vaishnaw said. While 660 post offices were closed earlier, around 5,000 offices were opened between 2014 and 2023, and about 5,746 new ones are in the process of being opened, he added.
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Congress MP Shaktisinh Gohil flagged the provisions in Section 9 of the Bill, which gives post office officials the power to intercept, open or detain any item or deliver item to Customs authority, and said it will infringe on the right to privacy. “The right of privacy is a fundamental right. I understand that security is important and you are doing it for the safety of the people but in the name of security....in which direction are we going?” he asked. His argument was supported by members of Left parties, AAP, Shiv Sena, DMK, TDP and other Opposition parties.
Mr. Gohil added that the Bill allows the interception of a shipment being transmitted through the post on certain grounds such as any “public emergency” or in the interest of “public safety” or tranquillity and sought the Centre’s clarification on both the terms. “Such interceptions may be carried out by Central, State governments or any officer specially authorised by them. Why don’t you specify which level of officer?” he said. The BJP MPs and the Minister, however, refuted such readings and the House passed the Bill.