From the issues of Stamps of India Collectors Companion

Part 29, Issue # 88 - October 24, 2002

The essays, proofs, color trials, progressives, imprimaturs and other such material holds much greater fascination for most philatelists. The journey of such material from printers and the post office to collectors is full of mystery. In case of India the story goes back to 1890 and is a subject suitable for an interesting book. 

The printers of the first issues of India in 1854, the Survey of India reprinted these on demand from the original stones in 1890 in addition to giving away such material to T K Tapling during his visit to India. The Survey of India also gave the only complete sheet of half anna in black to King George V who had asked for it in 1915.

This sprit of giving lasted for 100 years till in 1990 India Post decided to ban the display of proofs, color trials, progressives, and other such restricted material as such items are usually stolen and smuggled from the government custody. 

This action annoyed a section of philatelists controlling Philatelic Congress of India (PCI) and was first discussed in its meeting of February 24, 1991 at Bombay. An 'urgent' meeting of the Governing Council was held on July 17, 1991 at New Delhi to decide on the stand to be taken. Next day a ten-member delegation met the Chief of India Post. The PCI delegation consisted of D N Jatia, Dhirubhai Mehta, Brigadier D S Virk, V S Dastur, M G Pittie, Damayanti Pittie, Dr. D J Bannerjea, Y Kumar, Pradip Jain and B Mehta and the postal side was represented with Kailash Prakash - Chairman of Postal Services Board with members of the Philately Branch: V S Saksena - Deputy Director General, Vinod Dhamija - Director, and Rakesh Misra - Assistant Director General.

The points raised at that meeting were that De La Rue, the printer of India's stamps since 1855 to 1925, had sold its archives in 1970s, and as there is no theft reported to the police by post office collectors should be allowed to display material. PCI wanted that India Post should fix responsibility and the guilty should be punished including postal officers instead of taking action only against owners and exhibitors of such material. 

It was decided to hold another meeting between India Post and PCI in October 1991 that did not take place. The matter was again discussed in PCI meeting of January 26, 1992 at Bombay and it was decided to send a memorandum on the subject to the Minister. 

India Post in the letter of March 5, 1992 to PCI stated, "The meeting proposed for October 1991 could not be convened due to unavoidable circumstances. However, the Department has already prescribed the procedure for receipt and accounting of security items at the National Philatelic Museum. The General Manager, India Security Press, Nashik Road has also been requested to take suitable action in the matter. It has been decided that the ban will be applicable to display of all security material like color proofs, color trials, progressives etc. in respect of postage stamps printed in India after independence. Presently the ban is being applied to state level exhibitions organized by the Department, but it is proposed to extend it to the national exhibitions also. The guidelines for the exhibitions are being modified accordingly."

Another PCI delegation consisting of Colonel L G Shenoi, Dhirubhai Mehta, V S Dastur, Dr. D J Banerjea, and A R Singhee met the then Chairman of Postal Services Board, S K Parthasarathi in his office on January 18, 1993 in this connection. The matter was discussed next at the PCI meeting at Bombay on March 6, 1993. Since then members have raised this matter from time to time but nothing has been done by PCI.

India Post limited the ban, applicable only to post independence issues, made it effective for a fixed time and expanded it to cover exhibitions at all levels. The ban has been extended from time to time and PCI's role has been reduced to informing the same to its members. Now even this practice by the PCI has been dispensed with. Last communication in 1997 from PCI informed the extension of the ban to December 31, 2000. Since then the ban has been extended twice first till June 30, 2001 and then for a period of 5 years from July 1, 2001. This was communicated to PCI in October last year, however it has neither been discussed nor communicated to the members. 

The ban however has been rendered useless and has not stopped the archival material from being displayed and the material continues to be displayed unabatedly. The ban has also not affected the market prices of such material adversely as was expected of it. It is understandable that philatelists themselves will not voluntarily bring the violations of this ban to the notice of postal authorities but it is amazing that postal officers themselves have no desire to implement this effectively. This ban has been violated time and again with impunity at hundreds of exhibitions held in 12 plus years since it was introduced.

Although it is incorporated in the Bulletins of the national INPEX 93, world INDEPEX 97, and continental INDEPEX-ASIANA 2000 organized by India Post it surprisingly has been conspicuous by its absence in nationals CENTIPEX 97, MILLEPEX 2000, INPEX-EMPIREPEX 01, and INPEX 02 patronized by the PCI. 

Manik Jain is one person we know who has been upfront about it and had been warning collectors through his catalogs before the ban was even introduced in 1990. According to him "Such purchases shall put anybody, anytime in trouble and the mere possession shall be proved as crime". Majority of the imperforates available in the market are also actually imprimaturs and one needs to be careful in buying these. 

The archival material must be preserved as India's postal and philatelic heritage. The thefts had destroyed a large number of important files from the official record and many a question from collectors may remain unanswered in future. We hope that collecting community would realize that thefts are to be condemned and will refrain from dealing in material whose status is uncertain. By all means buy archival material only after ensuring that it has been sourced in a legit manner.

Many postal administrations realizing the attraction of the collectors to such material have adopted the practice of legally putting such material on sale and we hope that India Post would also favorably look at similar methods not only to raise funds for promotion of philately but also to prevent thefts and corruption.

There is still a need for finding a solution to this problem. The onus is on both the post office and the collectors to come clean and to work together. Announcement of an amnesty may perhaps be a good idea. 


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