Consumers beware!
Negligent postal services
Pushpa Girimaji 

Pushpa GirimajiA month prior to my sisterís marriage, I sent my father a demand draft, through registered post. I was to reach the wedding venue only on the date of the marriage, this was to help with the marriage expenses. The draft never reached, causing hardship to my father and embarrassment to me. Can I go to the consumer court for compensation for deficient and negligent service by the Department of Posts?

If you can prove that the loss of the mail was on account of a fraudulent or a wilful act or default on the part of the post office staff, then you can file a complaint before the consumer court for compensation. Even in these modern times, we are governed by an archaic law (the Indian Post Office Act) that gives the post office complete immunity from liability for loss, misdelivery, delay or damage to postal articles entrusted to it.

Section 6 of the Act says that: "The government shall not incur any liability by reason of the loss, misdelivery or delay of, or damage to any postal article in course of transmission by post, except in so far as such liability may in express terms be undertaken by the central government as hereinafter provided; and no officer of the post office shall incur any liaiblity by reason of any such loss, misdelivery, delay or damage, unless he has caused the same fraudulently or by his wilful act or default" On the basis of this, the apex consumer court has held in a number of cases that no compensation can be awarded for the negligent service rendered by the post office, unless the consumer proves that it has been the result of a fraudulent or a wilful act or default on the part of a postal employee or employees. In Post Master Imphal and Ors vs Dr Jamini Devi Sagolband, a five-member bench of the Commission looked at this issue in detail and came to the conclusion that except in cases where such articles are insured, there is complete immunity from liability for loss, misdelivery, delay on damage in respect of postal articles. Subsequently in a number of cases, the apex consumer court has followed the judicial precedent set in the Sagolband case. In Ravinder Nath Upadhya vs Sr Suptd of Post Offices and Anr (RP NO 3653 of 2013, decided on 11-12-2013), the issue was about a draft for Rs 25,000 sent by registered post not reaching the addressee. Again, the Commission said no compensation could be given.

How can one show wilful act?

Wilful basically means an intentional or a deliberate act. The online free legal dictionary by Farlex says that "There is no precise definition of the term wilful. Its meaning depends on the context. It signifies a sense of the intentional, as opposed to the inadvertent, the deliberate as opposed to the unplanned". In Snr Supdt of Post Offices, GPO Building, Chandigarh, vs Sharanjit Singh Bahm ( decided on May 14, 2009). where the post office sent a package meant for Chicago to Paris and even after realising the mistake, made no effort to redirect it to the correct address, but sent it back to the addressee, the National Commission held that "this was nothing but a willful act and constituted default on the part of the Department". (This case pertained to speed post service).