[Answered] Examine the constitutional validity of the Post Office Bill, 2023, in light of Supreme Court rulings on state surveillance powers and the right to privacy.

Introduction: Give a brief context to the Bill.

Body: Highlight key features of the Bill and concerns related to it.

Conclusion: Way forward

Parliament recently passed Post Office Bill, 2023 that seeks to replace the colonial-era Indian Post Office Act, 1898. The legislation is an attempt to ensure the effective functioning of the Postal Department as a messenger service and as a provider of banking facilities.

Key features of the Bill

  • Interception of Articles: Section 9 of the bill confers upon the Centre the power, through official notification, to authorize officers for the interception, opening, or detention of shipments in the pursuit of state security, fostering amicable relations with foreign states, maintaining public order, addressing emergencies, ensuring public safety, or ensuring compliance with other laws.
  • Exemption from Liability: Section 10 of the legislation provides immunity to the Post Office and its officers, shielding them from liability related to loss, mis-delivery, delay, or damage during services, except as explicitly prescribed. The Post Office Act of 1898 has undergone substantial amendments, with the removal of the majority of offenses and penalties, except for non-payment cases, which remain recoverable as arrears of land revenue.
  • Special features: The current bill abolishes Section 4 of the 1898 Act, which granted exclusive postal transportation privileges to the Centre. It also empowers the Director General of Postal Services to oversee specified extra services and set fees without parliamentary approval.

Concerns related to Bill

  • Unauthorized State Surveillance: Critics argue that the Bill threatens privacy rights by allowing unchecked interception of postal articles, raising the risk of unauthorized state surveillance and abuse. The Supreme Court, in the PUCL v. Union of India (1996) case, mandated safeguards to align with the right to privacy under Articles 19(1)(a) and Article 21.
  • Violation of Privacy: In Justice KS Puttaswamy versus Union of India (2017), the Supreme Court unanimously declared the right to privacy to be a fundamental right of all Indians. The broad powers given to the Central Government under the Bill violate six conditions for any state measure impacting privacy: legality, legitimate goal, suitability, necessity, proportionality, and procedural safeguards.
  • Vague Terms:The term ’emergency’ is not clearly defined anywhere in the Constitution and Bill. Hence, giving sweeping powers to the state of interception cannot serve as a reasonable ground for suspension of fundamental rights under Article 19(1).


The government needs to address concerns related to the Bill raised by Opposition parties & establish clear, transparent rules for mail interception, ensuring these are fair and include procedural safeguards. Defining vague definitions and framing grievance redressal mechanisms can serve as a bedrock to balance concerns of national security with the right to privacy.

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