Dead Letter Office (D.L.O)

      The origin of the Indian Dead Letter Office can be traced back to year 1837 when the detailed regulation about the postal system were introduced in India through an act of the parliament. The act provided for the disposal of the undelivered & unclaimed letters and mails. These letters were to be sent to the Gpos in the Presidency towns after a retention time of three months at the addressee post offices, to make more efforts to find their owners. The list of these undelivered articles were published in the gazette and after 18 months these were opened and valuable if any, were removed from them. Further after a year, if still unclaimed, these mails were to be destroyed.

      The first Dead Letter Office of the India was opened at Calcutta (the then capital of British India) in 1854.
DLO in Madras, Bombay, Lahore and Agra also started functoning in 1862 covering the entire country, from North to South & East to West.
Karachi DLO was started in 1870.
Another DLO was opened in 1872 in Nagpur which was followed by one at Lucknow in 1873.
Agra DLO was later shifted to Allahabad in 1873. Two more DLOs were started in 1875 at Mount Abu (Rajsthan) and
Rangoon (Burma) to ease the work and coverage.

Apart from the above DLOs postmarks are also seen from Dinapur, Ajmer, Dacca &Patna besides some from the princely states of India like Gwalior, Nabha, Patiala, Jaipur & Hyderabad. The earliest DLO postmark is recorded to be seen from Calcutta DLO circa 1861.

      In August 1947, when India attained it's independence,
we had fuctioning DLOs in our territory, viz, Calcutta, Bombay, Madras, Lucknow, Nagpur & Patna.
In 1948 Amritsar DLO was started and Hyderabad DLO was also included in the list with the merger of the then Hyderabad State into the Indian Union in 1948.


      In fact the Dead Letter Office are not 'letter-morgues', rather they perform more intelligent tasks then a normal post office. Hence to reflect their true nature of work and also to add decency to their nomenclature, in 1959 the Dead Letter Offices in India were rechristened as Return Letter Offices or R.L.O.s. All the eight DLOs named above were converted into RLOs at that time.
In 1964, there were 9 RLOs in India including the later added Banglore RLO, whose exact date of starting is not known.

      The work of dealing with the unclaimed mail at the DLOs has four distinct phases.
First to find out the addressee with help of every type of assistance available, if failed, then to find out the senders, if failed still, open the letter & remove the valuables and lastly dispose the remains.
Only the Dead Letter Office had the authority to open letters which couldn't seem to get delivered. Once opened, the contents of letters were considered sacred, so much so that the dead letter clerks were and still are forbidden to read any more of the communications than absolutely necessary to determine where the letters should go.

      Another genre of the mails which is handled by the DLOs is the letters which are refused to be accepted by the addressee. There may be a number of resons behind this refusal. These letters are sent to the DLOs which re-direct them to the senders.

      Letters with unfound addressees are sent back to the senders, free of any charge if the postage is fully paid. on the other hand they are marked 'POSTAGE DUE' if the original postage is not adequately paid by the sender, and the balance is recovered from the ultimate receiver of the letter.

      Interestingly, women were hired by the Post Office Department to work in the Dead Letter Office on priority, through for a different resons. Postal officials feel that women had better analytical powers than men, and could therefore decipher complicated and confusing addresses far easier.

      The clerks of the Dead Letter Offices made keepsakes of many of the worst letters they handled. When they cracked a really though address, a card was sent along with the letter to the postmaster asking that the empty envelope be returned once the letter was delivered to the addressee. The Postmaster forwarded the outer wrappers back to the Dead Letter Office, where they were retained as curiosities. Collections of such letters were bound together into small albums for future references.


      Currently only 15 RLOs are known functioning in India. According to the Postal Manual, Volume V, Fifth edition, they were supposed to be at every postal circle head quarters of the India Post but due to divisions of some states or postal divisions there are less in numbers. These are functioning at Ahmedabad, Amritsar, Bangalore, Bhubneswar, Chennai, Delhi, Hyderabad, Jaipur, Kolkata, Lucknow, Mumbai, Nagpur, Patna, Shillong, & Tiruvendrum (corrections/amendments solicited). Rumors are doing rounds in the concerned circles that the department is planning to abolish these RLOs and wishes to merge the job of these offices with the PMG's offices or GPOs all over India. Let's see, what the future holds for them.

By : Jeevan Jyothi in the ' Year Book ' of Indian Philately - 2011