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Mystery of ‘Cancer Seals’, Charity labels issued by India Post

A charity label is a label resembling a postage stamp, sold to raise funds. They are generally intended to be used on mail, as a way of advertising the sender's support of the charity's cause. Charity labels are designed to look like postage stamps and printed with or without denomination. They are distinct from charity stamps which also include a charge for postage. Charity labels are one of several kinds of Cinderella stamp which are not issued for postal purposes by postal department.

The Tuberculosis Association of India, inaugurated the first T. B. Seals campaign, on 2nd October 1950, and approached the Indian P & T Department for assistance and cooperation in organizing the sales of T. B. Seals through the post offices. This campaign was intended to raise funds for the alleviation of distress and sufferings of those who were victims of Tuberculosis. The Seals which were issued in sheets of 35 (7 x 5) at the cost of 1 anna each and were supplied to selected post offices all over India.

First ever Charity labels after Independence of India were issued by the Indian P & T Department on 2nd October 1951 in form of three Health Seals in denomination of 1 anna, 4 annas and 1 rupee to raise funds for anti - tuberculosis activities (Fig. 01). All three seals were printed by Thomas de la Rue & Co., London on un-watermarked gummed in sheets of 50. It is reported in DGPO Circular No.47 dated 6th October 1951 that Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, the Hon’ble Minister of Health & Communications was delighted to learn that one post master was able to sell all Health Seals, supplied to his post office, on the very first day.

As these labels were used as postage stamps by the public, the postal clerks tried their best to see that those labels were not pasted to the mail. A clarification was given by DGPO Circular No.49 dated 18th October 1951 that the affixing of such non-postal labels are not banned and are permissible under Clause 8 of the P & T Guide, if they are not likely to be mistaken for postage stamps. Even on insured articles such seals and / or labels were permitted by the Director General in partial relaxation of the provisions of Clause 123 of the P & T Guide, provided that not more than one seal was affixed on each insured article.

The Minister for Communication was so concerned about the sale of Health Seals that she used to visit post offices and used to appeal that all Postmasters should take special interest in such sale and they should make people to buy such Seals, vide DGPO Circular No. 55 dated 2nd November 1951. Defacing of non-postal stamps like Health / TB Seals remained always a problem for post offices. Ordinarily these stamps should not be defaced but if any sender wished to have them cancelled, he could present them at the counter and get them defaced in his presence, vide Postal Notice No. 50 dated 24th November 1951. Thus one thing is very clear that non-postal stamps could be defaced by date stamp and post office clerks should not deny defacing labels and / or non-postal stamp.

Healthy India Charity Seal
Healthy India Charity Seal
Healthy India Charity Seal
Fig. 01, Health Seals issued in denomination of 1 anna, 4 annas and 1 rupee.

Second such Charity labels were issued on the occasion of International Year of the Child by Department of Posts; in October 1979 (Exact date of issue is not known). Two labels in denomination of 50 p. and 100 p. were released as charity labels without postal validity and the sale proceeds were to be utilized for various child-welfare schemes of the Government of India. Both these labels were printed with Lion Capital Watermark in sheets of 75 labels (Fig. 02).

International Year of Child Charity Seal
International Year of Child Charity Seal
Fig. 02, International Year of the Child Charity labels in denomination of 50 p. and 100 p.

Both varieties of these Charity labels have been erroneously used as pre-payment of postage on articles and even postmarked by post offices.

Recently I came across a label “HELP FIGHT CANCER / BUY CANCER SEALS” on a cover mailed from Patna (Fig. 03). After seeing this label I could not hold my anxiety and started digging information about this label.

International Year of Child Charity Seal
Fig. 03, India Post label used for advertising Cancer Seals of India

At first, I found information in the Issue no. 423 (Feb 11, 2010) of Stamps of India Collectors Companion stating ‘Selected Post offices in Delhi are selling fund raising seals to help fight Cancer. The sale proceeds will go to Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute & Research Centre. The seals are in two denominations Rs 5 and Rs 50 and are issued in the sheets.’ However there was no information about the label illustrated in fig. 03 and date of issue of these labels.

Finally after exhaustive surfing on internet I found an interesting story about birth of Cancer Seals issued by India Post.

The foundation stone of the Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute was laid in West Rohini area of Delhi in April 1992, by the then Home Minister Shri S. B. Chavan and it was inaugurated by the then President of India Dr Shanker Dayal Sharma on 20th August 1996. To run this institution management continuously required huge funds to give best service to patients and with an aim of never passing on the burden to the patients. From the beginning the fund raising committee used to organize various activities and events to raise funds for the hospital.

In 1996-97 in times of financial crunch, Mr. D. N. Sondhi member of fund raising committee came out with the idea of the Cancer Seals Project. He approached the Department of Posts in the Ministry of Communication for approval to affix on all types of mails cancer seals. The department acceded within 10 days and 23rd June 1997 saw cancer seals introduced for the first time in India to raise funds for the cause. He then went to corporate entities asking them to sponsor the seals. M/s Bon Ton Opticians would take the lead, shell out the first 1 lakh and then President S. D. Sharma would release the seals.

More information about the designs of the Cancer Seals issued in 1997 is not available but ‘Flying A Dream’ published by Indraprastha Cancer Society and Research Centre, Delhi in 2013 illustrates two Cancer Seals in denomination of Rs. 5 and Rs. 50 (Fig. 04). But these labels bears new logo of India Post which was launched on 23rd September 2008 that means the Cancer Seals launched on 23rd June 1997 would be different then the Cancer Seals illustrated in Fig. 04.

Cancer Seal of India issued by India Post
Cancer Seal of India issued by India Post
Fig. 04, Cancer Seals of India, issued by India Post in denomination of Rs. 5 and Rs. 50

Mr. D. N. Sondhi had also approached some banks and institutions for Cancer Seal project and as result Punjab & Sind Bank, Oriental Bank of Commerce and Punjab National Bank had also sponsored ‘Cancer Seals’ for the Indraparastha Cancer Society that managed the Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute and Research Centre of New Delhi. The then President of India Shri K.R. Narayanan released ‘Cancer Seals’ sponsored by Oriental Bank of Commerce on 2nd November, 2000. The then Union Finance Minister, Shri Yashwant Sinha also released ‘Cancer Seals’ sponsored by the Punjab & Sind Bank on 17th November 2000. The Prime Minister of India Shri Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Dr. Manmohan Singh had released ‘Cancer Seals’ sponsored by Punjab National Bank on 22nd March, 2003 and 8th September, 2004 respectively.

Further on researching I, also found one more information that Smt. Radhika Doraiswami Secretary, Department of Posts released ‘Cancer Seals’ on the occasion of dedication of Modernized General Post Office, Kashmiri Gate, Delhi under ‘Project Arrow’ on 19th September, 2009 in presence of Shri Gopinath, Chief Postmaster General, Delhi Circle and the Chairman Fund Raising Committee & Cancer Seal Project Shri D. N. Sondhi. (Fig. 05)

Cancer Label Release
Fig. 05, Smt. Radhika Doraiswami Secretary, Department of Posts released ‘Cancer Seals’ on 19th September, 2009

It can be concluded that third Charity label of Post Independence period was introduced on 23rd June 1997 and fourth Charity label was introduced on 19th September 2009 by India Post for the fund raising to help fight Cancer and the sale proceeds would go to Rajiv Gandhi Cancer Institute & Research Centre. The Cancer seals issued on 19th September 2009 in two denominations of Rs 5 and Rs 50 were issued in the sheets.

It is still mystery about the label illustrated in Fig. 03. It appears to me that Department of Posts had also introduced these labels for the advertisement and promotion of ‘Cancer Seals’ launched by the department, as the label clearly shows message “HELP FIGHT CANCER, BUY CANCER SEALS’. In recent past these labels were available in Patna H. O. and were distributed to customers free of cost. It is not known where and at which post offices ‘Cancer Seals’ were sold and during which period.

Readers are requested to write the author if they have any information pertaining to these ‘Cancer Seals’.

Contributed by Prashant H. Pandya, Vadodara

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