NATIONAL CONSUMER DISPUTES REDRESSAL COMMISSION
Decided on April 15,1993
PRESIDENCY POST MASTER …Appellant
U.SHANKER RAO …Respondents
B.S. Yadav, Member
1. Both the Revision Petition Nos. 175 and 247 of 1992 can be disposed of by this common order as the point involved is similar.
2. In Revision Petition No. 175 of 1992 the Complainant, Dr. U. Shanker Rao, Medical Director, M/s. National Medical Hospital, Second Line Beach, Madras decided to celebrate the Fifteenth Anniversary of his hospital on 11th March, 1990 at Hotel Woodlands, Madras. It was presided over by the Minister of Health of the Government of Tamil Nadu. It is alleged that about 600 invitation letters were issued and put into post at the Central Post Office, Madras on 5th and 6th March, 1990 which were addressed to Industrialists and Bankers etc. Most of the invitations are said to have reached the invitees on 13th and 14th March, 1990 and the function on 11th March, 1990 proved to be a poor show as only 200 persons attended it. According to the Complainant there was gross deficiency in service and negligence on the part of the Postal Department. He claimed damages in the sum of Rs. 75,661.50.
3. The complaint was resisted by the Opposite Parties. It was contended that no record of unregistered article is kept. The number of invitations posted by the complainant could not be ascertained by the Department. The delay, if any, was not wilful or intentional. The Opposite Parties also relied upon Section 6 of the Post Office Act and the guidelines prepared by the Department to defeat the claim.
4. The District Forum, Madras believed the averments contained in the claim petition and awarded Rs. 12,929/- as compensation to the Claimant. It was further ordered that the said amount be paid within 30 days of the despatch of the order failing which the Opposite Parties were ordered to suffer simple imprisonment for three months.
5. Feeling aggrieved the Opposite Parties filed an appeal before the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, Tamil Nadu, Madras. On behalf of the Department, reliance was placed upon Section 6 of the Indian Post Office Act and guidelines of the Department. It was held by the State Commission that those provisions constituted no defence when an action for compensation for deficiency of service or negligence is instituted under the Consumer Protection Act, 1986 (for short the Act). Accordingly the appeal was dismissed. Feeling aggrieved, the officers of the Postal Department mentioned above in the heading of Revision Petition (No. 175 of 1992) have come up before this Commission.
6. In Revision Petition No. 247 of 1992, Consumer Rights Protection Council representing Mr. Pitcharaman, had filed a complaint before the Consumer District Forum, Madurai against the officers of the Postal Department who are now Petitioners in the Revision Petition. The facts of the case are that the Complainant, Mr. Pitcharaman had sent one consignment of handloom towels to M/s. Renuka Hosiery, Calcutta through Economic Roadways Corporation under Lorry Receipt No. 1653835. The original Lorry Receipt was sent by the Complainant to Syndicate Bank, Calcutta by registered post with acknowledgement due through the Post Office, Sellur to the Syndicate Bank, Calcutta to be received by the Consignee before taking delivery. The acknowledgement was not received back by the Complainant. The Complainant learnt that the registered letter was not received by the Bank. He further learnt that some other person had taken delivery of the consignment from M/s. Economic Roadways Corporation on the basis of the said lorry receipt. It was alleged that due to the carelessness, negligence and misconduct of the Postal Authorities, the registered letter containing the original lorry receipt had fallen into the hands of some unscrupulous person who used it. The Complainant claimed Rs. 3,185/- as compensation for the value of the consignment plus Rs. 3,000/- for mental agony etc. plus Rs. 500/- towards expenses incurred. The Opposite Parties in their counter admitted the booking of the registered letter and averred that on inquiry it was found that the registered letter had reached the Calcutta R.M.S. but its further disposal was not known. According to the Opposite Parties the letter had been lost in the Calcutta R.M.S. In that case also Opposite Parties placed reliance upon Section 6 of the Indian Post Office Act and pleaded that the Government was not liable for any loss of any postal article in the course of transmission and no officer of the Post Office incurs any liability by reason of such loss unless he has caused the same fraudulently or by wilful act or default.
7. The District Forum directed the Postal Department to pay the amounts claimed by the Complainant plus Rs. 250 as costs of the proceedings.
8. Feeling aggrieved against that order the Postal Authorities filed appeal before the State Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission, Tamil Nadu, Madras. The Opposite Parties placed reliance upon Section 6 of the Indian Post Office Act and guidelines issued by Postal Department. That plea was brushed aside by the State Commission by remarking that it was no longer available to the Postal Department, after the passing of the Act, which has been put on the Statute Book specifically for the purpose of providing the consumers a cheap, speedy, inexpensive and expeditious remedy against deficiency in service, whether that deficiency is committed by the Government or any private body provided only that the services are hired by the consumer. It was also remarked that the Lorry Receipt was an important document and was sent by registered post but in a casual and cavalier manner, the Opposite Parties averred that though the letter had reached Calcutta RMS but from there it was lost and thus it only indicated extreme apathy and indifference, want of due negligence and care amounting to gross negligence on the part of the Postal Department. Accordingly the appeal filed by the Postal Authorities was dismissed and the award of the District Forum was upheld.
9. Feeling aggrieved against that order the Postal Authorities have come before this Commission in revision (No. 247 of 1992).
10. After hearing the parties we are of the opinion that the argument of the learned counsel for the respective Revision Petitioners has force. It was rightly argued that Section 3 of the Act clearly lays down that the Provisions of the Act are “in addition to but not in derogation of the” provisions of any other law for the time being in force. This shows that the Act provides additional means of obtaining remedy by a consumer but if the remedy is barred under any other Act, then the various Forums constituted under the Act cannot grant the remedy prayed for.
11. Section 6 of the Indian Post Office Act reads as follows : “The Government shall not incur any liability it reasons of the loss, misdelivery or delay 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 liability by reason of any such loss, misdelivery, delay or damage, unless he has caused the same fraudulently or by his wilful act or default.” Counsel for the Revision Petitioner inter alia relies on the said provision and contends that no claim will lie against the Postal Department or its officers merely on the ground that there has been loss misdelivery, delay or damage of any postal article in the course of transmission by the Postal Department unless the same has been caused fraudulently by the officer complained against of the post office or by his wilful act or any default. Under the scheme of the Act the claim for compensation will lie at the instance of the consumer only if there is deficiency in service. According to the Revision Petitioners the statutory protection to the Central Government which is in absolute terms stands as an exception to the general law relating to the commercial carriers. Post office is a branch of public service functioning under a statute and the liability for misdelivery or late delivery of an article can be fastened on the postal department or its officers only on the basis of express provisions of the Post Office Act. The services rendered by the Post Office are merely statutory and there is no contractual liability. Establishing the Post Offices and running the postal service the Central Government performs a governmental function and the Government does not engage in commercial transaction with the sender of the article through post and the charges for the article transmitted by post is in the nature of charges imposed by the State for the enjoyment of the facilities provided by the Postal Department and not in consideration of any commercial contract. The Post Office cannot be equated with a common carrier.
12. We are of the opinion that both the claim petitions referred to above are not maintainable in view of Section 6 of the Indian Post Office Act. As noticed earlier there is no allegation that the loss, misdelivery or delay occurred on account of fraudulent or wilful act of any particular postal employee.
13. We do not think it necessary to go into the averments of facts contained in those claim petitions in view of the legal position discussed above. However, we may point out that the order of the District Forum which has been referred while narrating the facts of Revision Petition No. 175 of 1992 is bad in the eye of law to the extent that the Forum has passed a composite order. While awarding compensation to the claimant, the Forum has also passed an order under Section 27 of the Act for non-payment of the amount within a certain period. It has been repeatedly held by this Commission that such a composite order should not be passed by the various forums constituted under the Act. Before passing an order under Section 25 and 27 of the Act, an opportunity should be given to the defaulting party to show cause that why such an order should not be passed. The party can show reasonable grounds. After taking into consideration those grounds the Forum can pass an appropriate order. However, we do not want to dwell on that part of the order any further. 14. For the foregoing reasons we accept both the Revision Petitions and set aside the orders of the State Commission as well as of the District Forum in each of those Revision Petitions and dismiss the complaints. In both the Revision Petitions we do not make any order as to costs.