The Post Office Act 1854 was promulgated and brought into operation on October 1, 1854 as forerunner to govern the functions of as many as 700 Post Offices (POs) established by the British East India Company till 1854. Thus, officially, India Post enters into 170th year of its establishment on October 1, 2023. Since 1854, it has never looked back.
From pigeon to post and from manual to digital, it has travelled a long way with the mists of time. From 700 POs till 1854 to 1,59,251 POs as on 31.03.2022 (excluding 1,614 Franchise Outlets and 820 Panchayat Sanchar Sewa Kendras), India Post has registered nearly a 227 times growth during the period of last 17 decades identifying itself as the largest postal network in the world and providing postal facilities within reach of every citizen in the country adopting every mode of transmission from bare foot to air route.
To meet various challenges like emergence of electronic alternatives, more demanding customers, presence of organised / unorganised couriers for mail conveyance, financial players like banks and insurance companies on the one hand and to prove itself as an efficient and reliable communication network playing a crucial role in the socio-economic development and integration of the country on the other, the Postal Department is doing a lot of things other than just delivering letters.
Illustratively, it introduced Post Office Small Savings Scheme (POSSS) in 1882, Postal Life Insurance (PLI) in 1884, Indian Postal Order in 1935, Speed Post in 1986, Express Parcel in 1994, Rural Postal Life Insurance in 1995, ePayment Services in 2006, Indian Railways Passenger Reservation System (PRS) in 2007, adopted modernization of POs under Project Arrow in 2008 and complete computerization under I T Modernization Project in 2012. It has been offering Digital Life Certificate (DLC) to pensioners since 2015, selling Gangajal since 2016, working as Post Office Passport Seva Kendra (POPSK) and Aadhar Enrolment and Updation Centre since 2017 and serving as a Common Service Centre (CSC) since 2020 providing hundreds of services to the members of public, viz; PM Jan Arogya Yojana (Ayushman Bharat), Shramyogi Man-Dhan Yojana, Fasal Bima Yojana, collection of electricity, water, telephone bills and insurance premium etc, recharge of mobile, cable TV etc, booking of air, railways and bus tickets etc.
In addition, several other multiple services through Business Post, Media Post, Magazine Post, Retail Post, ePost, ePayment, eMoney Order and digital services to all 1,34,141 Branch Post Offices (BOs) in rural areas through DARPAN (Digital Advancement of Rural Post Office for a New India). The saga of success continues.
To sustain its position as the largest postal network in the world, a good number of POs are being opened every year. During 2021-22, it has opened 3,007 POs (including 2,849 BOs) in Left Wing Extremism affected areas. Out of 1,59,251 POs, 25,110 Departmental POs (15.77%) are headed by regular departmental employees and rest 1,34,141 BOs (84.23%) are headed by Gramin Dak Sewaks (GDS) as Branch Postmaster. A GDS is not appointed, but engaged. As a pre-condition of engagement, a GDS has to provide an accommodation for running of the BO. Since functioning without basic facilities of toilets, ramps, counters etc. and even without required standard furniture, these 84% BOs are not at all environment and customer friendly.
On the contrary, out of 25,110 Departmental POs, 4,580 POs are functioning in departmental buildings, 19,451 in rented buildings and rest 1,079 in rent-free accommodations provided by different organisations. The POs functioning either in rented or in rent-free accommodations also suffer from the same issues faced by the BOs. Thus, out of 1,59,251 POs, except 4,580 POs (2.88%), rest 1,54,671 POs (97.12%) suffer from poor ambiences and infrastructure facilities and hence fail to attract new customers and satisfy the existing customers.
Most unfortunately, barring some Departmental POs functioning in prime locations, no PO has proper ventilation system either with provision of Air-Conditioner, Air-Cooler etc, no separate queues for senior citizens, ladies, patients, physically-challenged persons etc and no furnished waiting place for the public. The Postmasters are often seen working with non-standard broken furniture depicting a very sub-standard look of the POs which distract the customers from the POs.
In spite of all such difficulties, India Post has been able to serve the entire nation with a human touch maintaining its iconic status as a unique and trusted national institution and demonstrating the highest order of integrity, honesty, transparency and professionalism only due to a team of dedicated staff starting with GDS.
Now there is an urgent need to revive the ambiences of all POs including BOs. Just opening of POs without basic amenities, standard counter / furniture may not carry forward its goodwill. Having 90% post offices in rural areas most of which are still functioning either in thatched or asbestos houses in a very cramped situation even in this modern digital era, it is really incredible on the part of India Post to have its first ever 3D Printed Post Office at Cambridge Layout, Bengaluru on August 18, 2023 as a testament to our nation’s innovation and progress. As reported, the fully furnished Cambridge Layout 3D Printed Post Office was completed in just 43 days with an estimate of Rs 23 lakh for an area of 1,021 square feet which is 30-40% less from normal construction. In all the 457 Postal Divisions under 23 Postal Circles, innumerable vacant lands are under possession of India Post. The Department needs to construct more number of 3D Printed POs and increase the ambience level to be the preferred, trusted and reliable service partner for all customers. (Samal is general secretary, Confederation of Central Govt Employees and Workers, Odisha State Coordination Committee; email: firstname.lastname@example.org; M: 9437022669)