Upholding the orders issued by the fora below, the national consumer disputes redressal commission (NCDRC) directed the postal department to return the full value of items booked for delivery, pay compensation equal to three times the value of the items and Rs2,000 cost in each of the 28 cases.
In an order, the NCDRC bench of Dr Inder Jit Singh (presiding member) says, "...if the complainant has complied with all the conditions and procedural formalities for booking of the articles in question but the postal department, without any valid reason, has failed to deliver the said articles to the addressee or return the same to the sender, i.e. the complainant within a reasonable period, they are liable for the deficiency in service. Hence, we agree with the concurrent findings of both the fora below on the count of deficiency of service on the part of the postal department herein as they have not been able to give valid reason for non-delivery, missed delivery, loss or damage."
"However, as the postal department has contended that in some cases the articles had been duly delivered to the addressee while in some cases they have been duly returned to the complainant or sender, in such cases, subject to petitioner giving a proof of delivery, duly attested by competent authority of the petitioner, the petitioner will not be liable for deficiency of service," he added.
Abhishek Sharma of Healing Crystals India had booked some parcels for international dispatch to Great Britain. However, the parcels failed to reach their designated recipient, leading the company to assert that this occurrence constitutes both an unfair trade practice and a deficiency in services on the part of the postal department.
In response to these allegations, the postal department contested the contentions against them, stating that Healing Crystals executed the parcel booking through a franchise outlet in Jaipur. It asserted that the regulations and protocols established by the Universal Postal Union (UPU), along with accords governing the distribution of foreign mail, are applicable to this scenario. It also maintained that the company omitted to declare the contents of the parcel, particularly that it encompassed a lapis lazuli stone tower obelisk reiki spiritual healing gemstone table decor valued at 11.11 pounds.
Mr Sharma from Healing Crystals then filed a complaint before the Jaipur district consumer disputes redressal forum (II). The district forum examined the facts presented and concurred with Mr Sharma's submissions, concluding that indeed, there was a deficiency in the service rendered by the postal department. Consequently, the forum issued an order mandating the postal department to provide pecuniary compensation to Mr Sharma. This ruling was subsequently upheld by the Rajasthan state consumer disputes redressal commission
The postal department acknowledged that the monetary quantum in question is relatively insignificant. However, it initiated revision petitions before NCDRC due to a recurrent pattern of 28 complaints and appeals originating from Mr Sharma, alluding to issues concerning delayed or unsuccessful foreign parcel deliveries. Despite the comparatively minor financial implications, the postal department underscored that Mr Sharma's persistent pursuit of grievances has compelled them to initiate the revision petition before NCDRC.
In its contention, the postal department stated that the district forum and the state commission have egregiously faltered by neglecting the provisions of Section 6 of the Indian Post Offices Act, 1898, which unequivocally and explicitly governs the matter. Section 6 of the Indian Post Office Act 1898 states that the Indian government shall not be liable for loss, missed delivery, delay, or damage to any postal article during transmission, except in cases where liability is expressly undertaken by the Union government and officers of the post office are not liable unless they have caused such issues fraudulently or through wilful acts or defaults.
The postal department says the parcel in question was dispatched on 19 June 2017, promptly forwarded to its Delhi office on the same day, and subsequently sent to Great Britain on 20 June 2017. The parcel reached Great Britain on 22 June 2017 and was duly received by the foreign exchange office.
"However, in accordance with the UPU Rules, the responsibility was declined due to the parcel falling within the category of items comprising precious materials. Furthermore, Mr Sharma from Healing Crystals refrained from submitting any complaints within six months from the booking date. However, it was only on 20 February 2018, during an inquiry, that the foreign mail division in Delhi informed that the parcel indeed contained precious items, and subsequently, the office in Great Britain declined responsibility," it added.
The counsel for Mr Sharma argued that he is a consumer of postal services, and the postal service-providers have a contractual obligation to ensure safe and timely delivery. "If there is a deficiency in services such as mis-sent parcels, delayed deliveries, or non-deliveries, the postal service providers could be held liable for their shortcomings."
After carefully going through the orders of the state commission, district forum, other relevant case records, various case laws relied upon by the parties and rival contentions of the parties, NCDRC noted that Healing Crystals India is a sole proprietorship firm of Mr Sharma, who is an unemployed postgraduate and running this firm for his livelihood and for self-employment in proprietorship. Mr Sharma has further argued that the petitioner herein received postal charges and gave assurance to deliver the foreign registered parcel to its recipient in a safe condition within proper time; it is also the contractual liability of the postal department, as they are the service-provider of the postal services.
"After considering all the aspects and case laws on the subject, we agree with the concurrent findings of the fora below that complainant is a consumer," Dr Singh from NCDRC says.
As regards the contentions of the postal department about the applicability of Section 6 of the Indian Post Office Act, the bench, after going through the various case laws, especially the earlier decisions of NCDRC, says it is of the view that no doubt these provisions are applicable and grant some sort of immunity to the postal department and its employees.
It says, "We are of the view that, as was held by this Commission earlier in post master, post office vs Ripan Kumar (Supra), Section 6 does not intend to provide an unfettered licence to the officials of the post offices for inefficiency and mismanagement and to cause loss and injury to its consumers."
The postal department had contended that Mr Sharma despatched prohibited items on account of which the UPU or Great Britain office declined responsibility, and at the time of booking such articles for foreign delivery, the customer is obligated to fill up a custom declaration form, where he is required to declare detailed description of the contents, its quantity, weight, and value.
NCDRC noted that Mr Sharma has duly declared the description of the item in this form. "Having accepted any article for foreign delivery along with custom declaration form, complete in all respects, and completion of requisite terms and conditions and procedural modalities for booking of such articles, later on, the postal department cannot run away from their responsibility for timely delivery of such articles or returning the same to the sender in case of non-delivery of such articles for any reason, or to compensate the complainants for any loss, damage or missed delivery. Hence, except in cases where the postal department has actually delivered the items to the addressee or returned the same to the sender, for which there should be valid proof of delivery to the addressee or sender, in other cases, they are liable to compensate the complainant for loss, damage or missed delivery," the bench says.
It directed the postal department to return the full value of the items (converted to Indian rupees), as declared in the customs declaration form, along with postal charges taken from Mr Sharma. It directed the postal department to pay, within three months, compensation equal to three times the value of the items declared in the customs declaration form and litigation cost of Rs2,000 in each of the 28 cases.
(Revision Petition No120 of 2021 Date: 20 September 2023)