Friday, March 13, 2015

Does India Post do justice to the Stamp Issue Program?

It is one more reminder of what India Post needs to be doing to keep faith of philatelists in collecting Indian postage stamps. Release of a ‘tentative’ Stamp Issue Program covering about a year and a half at once is a very curious feature of India Post. It sounds confusing, but I will delve into in more detail.

The financial year in India lasts from April 1 to March 31, and same is followed throughout the country, India Post being no exception. A trend that I have observed for the past 10 years now, is that the Department of Posts works on the Stamp Issue Program on the same pattern. Thus, the work on the program, I assume beings sometime during the closure of the financial year and the proposals are presented to the Philatelic Advisory Committee (PAC) whenever the committee meets after the end of the financial year. In most cases this happens at a leisurely pace and without any priority. Assuming the meeting occurs in June-July, the decision makers come up with a program for the remaining months of the pertaining calendar year and for the complete forthcoming calendar year. For example, the advisory committee meets in July 2008, it would recommend on stamp issue proposals for the remainder of 2008 and 2009 calendar year.

The irony of this issue is that since the calendar year 2009 does not need any more stamp proposals to be considered, the committee is not convened to meet until there is a need to approve another stamp proposal. By logic, another PAC meeting should happen in 2009 for stamp proposals for 2010 calendar year. On the contrary, that meeting does not take place and what prevails is chaos. In the year 2010, the philatelists would have no prior information about the stamp issue program until the advisory committee meets, and that might happen in the later half of the year.

This lackluster and lackadaisical approach towards this most important activity as far as the Philately Division of India Post is concerned does not augur well for the philatelists in particular and for the citizens of India, in general. For one, without the stamp issue program and approval of the philatelic advisory committee, the stamps cannot be issued and there is a huge lack of information as far as future stamp issues are concerned. It is a regular practice in most civil nations to have access to the stamp issue program well before the calendar year begins or right at the beginning of the year.

Another major implication without the access to the stamp program is that India Post remains unaccountable for the approvals accorded for stamp issues. When the advisory committee has not met for the initial half of the year that needs a stamp issue program, the division with internal consultations and ministerial discretion keeps according approval for issuing stamps until the PAC meets. Also, frequent changes, additions, deletions, undecided dates, postponements, irregular releases, premature releases of stamps has created chaos within the philatelic community and also with the numerous philatelic bureaus that deal with all the vagaries that come with these changes, which now seems to be constant with India Post Philately division.

Considering all the haphazardness that this important function of the philately division of India Post creates, it is time for a more transparent process to be put in place for releasing a Stamp Issue Program. The first thing that needs to be done is that the program be released on the basis of each calendar year and not for 1.5 years at once and then a break for half year. The PAC should meet more often, twice a year, first to consider all proposals placed before it and then to give final shape to the issue program and the second meeting towards the last quarter of the calendar year to take stock of the current issue program and begin consultations for the forthcoming year. If this seems a mammoth task, and even if the committee meets once a year, as deems fit, at least the stamp issue program for the forthcoming year could be decided upon.

The PAC needs to be given more powers and its decisions be made binding to India Post. Since it is a good mix of ministers and legislators, philatelists, and other people from relevant fields, it should be considered free from any bias and personal gains. This said, India Post must ultimately aim to move towards a Citizens Stamp Advisory Committee pattern, as is done in the United States. It is the most transparent and people oriented way to decide on stamp subjects and themes. The Committee has no legislative representation, and is just made up of well known professionals in arts, humanities, and other relevant backgrounds. It could augur well for India Post too. Also, any common man can put forth proposals, three years in advance and the work for research begins there. This feature also exists with the current PAC, but only remains on paper, and no common man takes interest in the rarely publicized activity that needs sheer backing to get proposals approved. For example, the Horses of India stamps, released in November 2009, proposed by Sandip Brahmbhatt, took about 5 years to see the light of the day.

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