"Act Of Surveillance": Opposition In Rajya Sabha On Post Office Bill

The Post Office Bill, 2023, has provisions allowing the postal officer to "open, detain, or destroy" parcels in the interest of national or public security.

'Act Of Surveillance': Opposition In Rajya Sabha On Post Office Bill

Some MPs alleged that the Act can be "misused" and is akin to allowing surveillance of citizens.

New Delhi:

Several opposition parties like the Left and AAP in Rajya Sabha on Monday opposed the new post office bill, which has provisions allowing the postal officer to "open, detain, or destroy" parcels in the interest of national or public security. They claimed it was an infringement of the fundamental right to privacy.

Members from parties including the NCP, AIADMK, and TDP also raised concerns over Section 9 of the Post Office Bill, 2023, which grants the "Power to intercept, open or detain any item or deliver the item to customs authority" and said it against federal principles.

Some MPs alleged that the Act can be "misused" and is akin to allowing surveillance of citizens.

Participating in the debate, Congress' Shaktisinh Gohil objected to the provision of the bill that gives the power to intercept shipments to specified officers, saying it would 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.

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, Mr Gohil said, asking the government to clarify what is a "public emergency, public safety or tranquillity".

"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.

Further, the officer has the power to open, detain or destroy the shipment, Mr Gohil said, adding, "The trust that people have over postmen will be destroyed by this bill."

Opposing the bill, Raghav Chadha from the AAP said that its Sections 9 and 10 provide "power to open, intercept and read any letter and there is no rule and procedure laid down in this.

"This is an act of surveillance on citizens, fails to specify procedures and the grounds are very vague. Moreover, there are no consequences for the unauthorised opening of postal articles by a postal officer. This is a violation of articles 19 and 21 of the Indian Constitution," he said.

Opposing the bill, AA Rahim of the CPI(M) said it is against the fundamental right of the Constitution and the federal principles. Through this bill, the government is trying to privatise the postal services, he added.

"This bill is trying to breach the privacy, which is a part of Right to Life, a fundamental right," he said, adding it also "removes the authority of the state government and their authorised officers to intercept a shipment. This is a direct attack on federal principles."

K Ravindra Kumar of TDP supported the bill but raised his concerns over provisions. He suggested a "relook" at Section 9 of the bill, contending such powers could be misused.

"Section 3 (1) of the Act says that what services of post office has to render is to be decided by the central government. This gives sweeping power to the Centre," he said.

Fauzia Khan of NCP said the bill is for strengthening the network of the postal service but the legislative intent is not anywhere near to it.

"It plans to turn us into a most surveilled nation," she said adding, "Officers have got an immunity shield and they may indulge in corrupt practices through it."

M B Thambidurai of the AIADMK said, using the emergency provisions, someone cannot intercept "a letter having emotions". He also suggested modernising the post offices and providing rural employment through them.

Abdul Wahab of IUML also opposed the bill and said it allows the opening of parcels in the name of national security and there is no liability provision for the officers.

Ayodhya Rami Reddy of YSRCP supported the bill. He added, however, that some of its provisions require reconsideration.

V Vijay Sai Reddy YSRCP supported the bill and said it is a step to three pillars of good postal service - reliability, reach and relevance.

However, he also suggested the government consider differential pricing for rural and urban areas. He said postal rate subsidy should be reconsidered and should only be limited to poor people and the rich should not be profiting from it.

Niranjan Bishi of the BJD and Kavita Patidar, Ghanshyam Tiwari and Lahar Singh Siroya of BJP also participated in the discussion.

(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)