Mainstream Weekly

Home > 2024 > Decoding the Blips in the Post Office Bill, 2023 | Nisha Mishra

Mainstream, VOL 62 No 1 January 6, 2024

Decoding the Blips in the Post Office Bill, 2023 | Nisha Mishra

Friday 5 January 2024


The Parliament on 18 December passed the Post office bill, 2023 that repealed the erstwhile Indian Post Office Act of 1898. This move by the government was justified on the grounds to streamline the postal administration and efficient service delivery mechanisms.

Initially, the Indian Post Office Act, 1898 was enacted to replace the Act of 1866 which in several matters did not suited to the requirements of the postal department and works. Moreover, the issues pertaining to protection of the post office, powers pertaining to officials in dealing with the articles posted, schemes like postal insurance, the value payable system and money order system, etc were beyond the ambit of this Act, which required legislative enactment. It was in this light the need to amend the Act of 1866 was felt, to weed out the discrepancies associated with it.

Nevertheless, the 1898 Act was also not free from flaws. The provision related to interception on the grounds of “public emergency “ was mentioned in the Indian Post Office Act, 1898, but the word emergency was not defined clearly and the clause was qualified as absolute vague. Further, this Act was amended in 1986, the Indian Post Office (Amendment) Bill, 1986 that brought into its ambit the broader definition of interception permitting the union government or the state government or any authorized officer to “intercept or detain ” any postal article on the following grounds – security of the state, sovereignty and integrity of India, friendly relations with foreign states, public safety, for preventing incitement to the commission of any offence or on the occurrence of any public emergency. However, this act remained on papers and was subsequently withdrawn by the then Vajpayee Government in 2002.

The present Post Office Bill, 2023 was enacted to govern the functioning of the post offices in India. As of late, the postal department has diversified its functioning beyond mail delivery and has now become an active vehicle disseminating various citizen centric services, which prompted the government to repeal the Act. The Post Office Bill, 2023 allows the authorized officer appointed by the union government to “intercept, open or detain” any postal articles on grounds of security, friendly relation with other countries, public order, emergency, public tranquility or contravention of any other laws. Moreover, the Bill also exempts the post office from incurring any liability for the services delivered, unless willfully or fraudulently done by the officer concerned to cause any loss, delay or mis-delivery of the services.

What are the concerns over the Bill?

Several objections have been raised by critics with regard to the Section 9 of the present Bill of 2023 which calls for interception or detaining of postal shipments. The bill was passed amid the agitation led by opposition party over the parliamentary security breach on December 13. Subsequently, most of the MPs’ were suspended during the winter session of the Parliament. There was no room for discussion of the bill and was passed without any haste. Other major amendments were also made and passed in both the Houses. This act of the government raises question over the democratic setup enshrined in the Constitution and the tyrannical move of the government. Sometimes, this step of the government in power proves to be intentional in order to forbid the opposition from taking part in the discussion of the major bill and suggesting constructive reforms, if any.

Critics point out that the bill violates fundamental right of Right to Privacy. The postal articles that are prone to be intercepted on the ground of security concerns violate the privacy of the people. This opens the door for state surveillance power to monitor the citizens which is against the Article 14, 19(1)(a) and Article 21 of the constitution. This power has enlarged the ambit of the post officer in charge empowered to exercise the unbridled power of search and seizure of the post articles. In the landmark judgment of Justice KS Puttaswamy versus Union of India (2017) the Supreme Court declared Right to Privacy as fundamental right of all the citizens. The apex court has also specified certain stipulations to be satisfied before infringing the right to privacy i.e. legality, suitability, necessity, proportionality and procedural safeguards. Under the cloak of securing national security, the very principle of natural justice of compromised.

Referring to the provisions of section 9 that permits interception by post officer, the clause fails to specify as to how these officers would be selected and appointed to carry out the task. This entitles the officer to exercise unbridled authority and also there is no provision which prevents the officer from leaking the contents of the shipment. Questions have also been raised on the failure to provide the effective mechanism for the redressal of citizens’ grievances. It is because the bill exempts the authority in charge of postal administration from incurring any liability for the loss or misappropriation in postal articles, moreover the penalties for such offences are removed from the Post Office Bill, 2023, which was mentioned in the 1898 Act. This will prevent the citizen to raise any objection pertaining to interception of his/her postal shipment or take any action against the authority. In the era of welfare state, this bill attempts to suppress the voices of citizens in the country.

The clause containing “public safety” on the grounds of public emergency and disaster management that allows the central government or state government to take temporary possession of the communication services and networks to prevent any offence being committed can lead to shutdown of network services thus causing inconvenience to general public of the affected place.

This bill has provided ample scope for state authoritarianism over communication network and mass surveillance. Little changes have been made in the colonial architecture of the bill by rewording of the phrases. This authority of the government will in coming years will be used alongside other regulations to take control over the confidentiality enjoyed by the citizens.

Way forward

The laws are enacted and amended keeping in view the changing milieu of the country and which represents the aspirations of the its citizens. But the newly amended Post Office Bill seeks to cater to the needs of government aspirations under the veneer of citizens’ service. To rectify the lack of safeguards associated with the Bill, the government should clearly state the provisions pertaining to interception, appointing the official, informing in advance the person of inspecting, detaining or intercepting the postal article. Furthermore, with overarching interception powers, robust and effective data privacy and security measures to protect the personal information of its users. The legislation pertaining to courier services is missing in the Act, which has left the door open for flexibility and adaptation to the evolving needs of the people.

(Author: Nisha Mishra, Research Scholar, Department of Political Science, Patliputra University, Patna. E-mail: nisham154[at]


  • “Analyzing the Post Office Bill, 2023”; The Hindu, December 23, 2023.
  • “Will the telecom Bill streamline the sector?”; The Hindu, December 24, 2023
  • “Another colonial-era law, Indian post office act, 1898 to be repealed.” The Hindu Bussinessline, August 12, 2023
ISSN (Mainstream Online) : 2582-7316 | Privacy Policy|
Notice: Mainstream Weekly appears online only.