Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Finance Ministry to Vet Appointments of Post Office Agents

Dear Comrades,

The National Consumer Disputes Redressal Commission has come to the rescue of crores of people who deposited their small savings with the Indian post office and ended up being cheated by the clever antics of their so-called official agents. The Ministry of Finance will now regularize the appointment of agents  to ensure that the common man is not duped.

A bench headed by Justice VB Gupta and its presiding member Rekha Gupta took note of a complaint in 2009 at the Maharashtra State Consumer Disputes Commission made by Mumbai resident George Mathew, who handed over a cheque of Rs 2.5 lakh along with the pre-requisite forms to authorized agents of the post office as part of its monthly savings. When the payment did not reflect in his account, Mathew  made enquiries with the agents who kept dilly-dallying and giving him false assurances. On further enquiries, he found that his money had been deposited into the accounts of two persons who had no connection with either him or the post office.
Mathew then approached the Maharashtra consumer commission court to seek remedy. The district consumer court agreed with the contentions of the consumer and directed the Director-General of Post Offices and the Post Master, Mumbai, to refund the entire amount paid out by Mathew, along with the promised 6 per cent interest.
Aggrieved by the order, the Ministry of Communications approached the National Consumer Court. But the court not just dismissed the appeal, it also imposed a Rs 1 lakh penalty on the Union of India through the Ministry of Communications. In a statement issued last week, the bench stated: “Of late, many cases have come before this forum relating to fraud and misappropriation by agents appointed by National Savings Organization for Department of Posts. Most of the victims are either senior citizens, or other innocent customers who have placed their trust in agents appointed to work on behalf of Central and State Governments. It is time that cognizance is taken of the fact that agents have been appointed without proper scrutiny and verification and continue to work by repeated automatic renewal of their agencies by the appointing authorities.”

The court added: “There is no supervision and oversight of their working methods either by the appointing authority or by the agencies that are using their services.” To tackle this issue, the bench concluded that the entire system would henceforth be reviewed by the Ministry of Finance in consultation with the stakeholders to bring out clear cut guidelines. These would help avoid the repeated cheating and victimization of the public at the hands of unscrupulous agents, who are often in connivance with officials of the Department of Posts. 

The bench also suggested that a list of dos and don’ts be displayed prominently in the post office, and the same should also be handed over  to the post master and the staff at post offices.
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