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Wednesday, April 13, 2011

National Roundtable Conference on Mainstreaming of Rural Postal Network:

Postal network with its size and reach across the country is the unique institution having potential to serve the rural community. Post Office is a microcosm of the rural community and is susceptible to changes in the environment. Therefore Department of Posts (DoP) needs to clearly redefine and reinvent the role of the Post Office in this new environment. This was stated by Shri Kapil Sibal, the Union Minister of Communications and Information Technology while inaugurating the National Roundtable Conference on Mainstreaming of Rural Postal Network here today. The Minister said that the Department is already on the road to Information Technology induction. Rural Information Communication Technology (ICT) segment of this project will throw up opportunities for serving customers on high end of the economic scale and development on initiatives as well as for ensuring last mile delivery.

Understanding that technology is not the end but is means to end like good governance and better quality of service India Post must adopt a holistic approach to technology led transformation. This platform be used to understand and conceptualise how important process reengineering, skill development and enhancement and resource planning is for implementing the new technology in our post offices. In the new environment possibilities of the rural post offices and Gramin Dak Sewaks being empowered and developed to become the “Vehicle of financial inclusion” and “Agents of last mile reach” in the digital age may be explored,he added.

India Post is the biggest postal network in the world, a major portion of which, consisting of about 139,000 post offices, is located in the rural India. Through a unique model of its rural branches, run by personnel drawn from the local communities, India Post has been providing mail, financial, and retail products to the remotest and most backward areas in a cost-effective manner. Its network is highly trusted and accessible to all the sections of the society. The network is however facing challenges of its under-utilization due to falling volumes of physical mails in rural areas. There are concerns that such sub-optimal utilization may be a loss of opportunity for this valuable national institutional capital.

India Post has the largest outreach among all the Central Government departments and agencies. This network has been and is continued to be used by other Government agencies in order to reach the people residing in the hinterland of the country due to its overarching reach. It is also the largest financial delivery network in the country and thus is ideally situated to deliver various instruments of financial inclusion, and social and economic development, particularly in rural areas. Moreover, rural postal personnel possess valuable information-capital on the households that can be leveraged to efficiently identify the prospective recipients of the social protection programmes. An ambitious programme of computerizing and digitally connecting the entire postal network is likely to further strengthen the potential and the capabilities of the network.

Rural post offices (called Branch Post Offices) function for three to five hours on all working days. They book registered letters, money orders, and collect ordinary letters through letter boxes located in all the villages even when they do not have a post office. They also deliver letters, both ordinary and registered and money orders at the doorsteps of all the addressees residing in their delivery jurisdiction. They open and service various kinds of deposit accounts and sell Rural Postal Life Insurance. They also provide retail services such as telephone and electricity bill collection. Some branch post offices (BOs) perform very specialized functions, e.g. 1,181 BOs collect data in respect of about 275 items of consumption every month on behalf of Ministry of Statistics and Programme Implementation for computation of Price Indices. The BOs are also involved in wage distribution to MGNREGA workers through more than 4.83 crore accounts.

The Minister for State for Communications and IT, Shri Sachin Pilot, Member Planning Commission, Shri Mihir Shah, Secretary Rural Development, Shri B.K. Sinha, Secretary (Posts) Ms Radhika Doraiswamy, Director Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Shri S. Parsuraman, experts, academicians and officers were present. The roundtable is being attended by various stakeholders in addition to the policymakers within India Post. It will explore various opportunities of engagement of the rural postal network towards social and economic development of rural communities and improvement of revenues of India Post in the process. This process will lead to drawing up of a roadmap for the rural postal network to bring it to the social and economic mainstream of rural India. This roadmap will also inform the Rural Entrepreneurs program for Gramin Dak Sewaks (Rural Postal Personnel). The conference will deliberate and try to identify initiatives for mainstreaming of rural post offices in the community they serve; inform stakeholders the opportunities coming up for the rural post offices in the near future through Rural ICT of India Post 2012 and bring out valuable inputs for orienting the Rural Entrepreneurs program for Gramin Dak Sewaks to address the needs of the community served by the Post Office effectively.
PIB Release, April 13, 2011

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