The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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You’ve got only snail mail

New Delhi, April 20: The next time you need to send an urgent letter, you may have to depend on snail mail.

The government today proposed amendments to the Indian Post Office Act, 1898, banning private courier companies from carrying letters weighing less than 300 gm.

The private courier industry is livid, but the government’s defence is that it needs this monopoly to be able to fund cheap postal services in remote areas.

“The monopoly over a specific part of the letter mail of all descriptions up to a specified weight limit is essential as the department of posts is required to fulfil the universal service obligation, which involves postal coverage to financially non-viable areas also at affordable rates for the common man,” a statement said.

It’s not clear if the department can match the value-added services offered by private couriers, such as pick-up from home and tracking the movement of the letter on the Net.

As much as 65 per cent of the private courier service industry’s total revenue of Rs 5,000 crore comes through ordinary mail that weighs less than 300 gm, sources said.

“We use the private courier service to despatch a huge number of bills to subscribers every day,” said an executive of a private cellular service provider. “We aren’t sure the postal department can handle such huge volumes.”

Similar fears were expressed by banks that send credit card bills, monthly account statements and other letters.

“Any weight restriction would be denying a choice to the consumer,” said R.K. Saboo, chairman of Express Industry Council of India.

The Centre has another, paradoxical argument: the amendments will make the sector more “liberal and competitive”. Its reasoning is that the current act says letters lighter than 500 gm can be carried only by the department. But the act doesn’t define a letter, making it easy for private couriers to carry them as “documents”, the minister of state for communications and IT, Shakeel Ahmad, explained recently.

The amendments, which define a letter to plug the loophole, bring the limit down to 300 gm ' and to the Centre, this signifies liberalising the sector.

The courier industry said it would “like to enter into a constructive dialogue with the government and work on ways to ensure (its) survival”.

The Centre has invited suggestions from the public by May 5.

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