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The graveyard of letters

Ever wondered what happens to all unclaimed letters? Well, they get a decent burial. Some officers of the Indian postal department bury all ‘dead’ letters. These officers belong to the Dead Letter Office, often called “morgue of the mails”.

delhi Updated: Oct 20, 2009 22:41 IST
Satyen Mohapatra

Ever wondered what happens to all unclaimed letters? Well, they get a decent burial.

Some officers of the Indian postal department bury all ‘dead’ letters. These officers belong to the Dead Letter Office, often called “morgue of the mails”.

Every postal circle has one such office, the nomenclature of which has been changed from the morose-sounding ‘Dead Letter Office’ to Returned Letter Office (RLO).

Hundreds of letters and parcels, which cannot be delivered to the addressee or sender, land at the RLO.

“Many people don’t write the correct name and address. Sometimes we get items with just the name of the person like ‘Ramdev, New Delhi’ — almost an impossibility to trace,” said Triveni Ram, in-charge of Delhi Circle’s RLO at Jhandewalan.

“Post offices try to deliver the letters to the addressee but if the name or address is undecipherable or wrong or incomplete, if the addressee has changed his address with no forwarding address, or if the letter / parcel is refused to be accepted, we try to send it back to the sender,” Ram added.

But a lot of times, the name and address of the sender is mentioned. All such letters or parcels end up at the RLO, Ram added.

Often, RLO officers take on the role of a detective, trying to trace the correct name and address of the addressee or sender from any available clue.

“Our task is basically to find out the addressee and deliver the item. We are authorised to open the letters and parcels and sometimes the address of the sender is written inside, in which case the item is sent back to the sender,” Ram said.

But sometimes the sender refuses to take back his mail and it comes back to the RLO, he added.

“Some foreign visitors fly home and send parcels by sea, mentioning the sender’s address as that of the hotel in Paharganj where they stayed. If they aren’t there to receive the item in their home country (sometimes they don’t do so because of high duties) it remains undelivered and comes back to the sender, Ram said, adding that since the sender has already checked out of the hotel, the item lands up at the RLO.

The office keeps all articles, for a year.

Earlier, after a year went by, the office used to burn all letters and auction articles found inside parcels.

“But now we shred all letters before disposing them and auction all goods recovered from the parcels through approved auctioneers after taking permission from postal authorities,” Ram said.

The Jhandewalan RLO earns revenue of around Rs 2-3 lakh annually from these auctions, he said.