When a post office accepts bulk mails stamped through franking machine and delivers them to the addressees without demur, it does not lie in its mouth to say thereafter that the sender had under-stamped the mails and hold him accountable for the deficit. In CESC Ltd vs. Chief Post Master General, the petitioner electricity company had been sending its bills to consumers through post, with stamps being printed on such bills through franking machines at the rate applicable to ordinary post. The post office suddenly woke up and said the bills were actually book-post, and attracted higher charges. Accordingly it raised a bill for Rs 1.83 crore being arrears. Incidentally, a franking machine keeps a faithful tally of number of mails sent.

The Supreme Court found that the Indian Post Office Act, 1898 gave the post office vast powers to collect charges. In the first stage, it could have asked the sender to pay the difference between the franked charges and the actual charges. In the second stage, it could have asked the addressees to pay up such difference as a precondition for handing over the mail. And lastly, on refusal of the addressee to pay up, it could have reverted back to the sender. Having been remiss in not exercising all these rights, the post office could not one fine morning wake up and slap the sender with a bill for the arrears, held the Supreme Court, quashing the judgement of the High Court upholding the post office stand.

(The author is a New Delhi-based Chartered Accountant)

(This article was published on June 13, 2012)
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