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Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Rural Development through Post Offices

Post Offices in India constitute the largest network in the country offering financial, communication and other retail services. Rural Development supported by reach and infrastructure of Postal Network can write golden chapters of human endeavour and social development. Rural development refers to the process of improving the quality of life and economic wellbeing of people living in relatively isolated and sparsely populated areas. It aims at finding the ways to improve the lives of the people by increasing the level of participation of people living in isolated areas so as to meet their required needs. However Development of rural areas, like any other development activity, can only take place when there is an adequate support of appropriate infrastructure.
Department of Posts has been involved in rural development for the last 150 years. With its more than 139,000 Post Offices in rural areas, it provides support in various critical functions through communication, financial services, life insurance products and other retail services. Till March 2011, 4271 Panchayat Sanchar Seva Kendras have been functioning in the country. Panchayat Sanchar Seva Kendras are opened at Gram Panchayat Headquarters where Post Offices do not exist. This scheme is implemented by Gram Panchayats through an agent appointed by them.

Rural Information Communication & Technology (RICT)

Electronically empowered Post Offices can mitigate complaints of discrimination and negligence that rural India always feels. In order to further widen and deepen an already unmatched reach of this network, particularly in rural areas, India Post has embarked upon an ambitious programme of ICT induction in all its post offices. The programme involves computerizing and digitally connecting all the post offices including those in rural areas. Rural ICT segment of this programme will bring in efficiencies in the way business is transacted. Under RICT Programme, all rural Post Offices will be provided Main Computing Devices which may be either handheld or computer net books. Majority of devices will be handheld ones which are compact, rugged and are slightly bigger than ordinary remote control devices for televisions, Printers, Digital camera, Fingerprint scanner, Bar Code scanners, Smart card reader and writers, Magnetic card reader, GPS and Solar Panels.
By connecting Branch Post Offices to a central server customers in rural areas can transfer money instantly, can operate their accounts, both deposit as well as loan accounts, from their village or in case of migrant labourers from their village as well as from their places of work. Rural ICT program will improve the quality of services and will facilitate faster payments and faster integration of information. As Post Office is geared to serve the ‘aam aadmi’, the benefit of quality service will pass on to the target group. Digitally networked rural post offices may also become an important medium of dissemination of information. In addition to improving efficiency of mail, financial and retail services, the computerization of rural post offices will enable India Post to deliver much-needed social security schemes even more efficiently. It will also allow the Department to engage in delivery of many more social security schemes. 

 Financial Services

It is widely acknowledged fact that improving the access to financial services is a very effective strategy for development of rural areas. Financial inclusion of the excluded households of rural areas is being accorded high priority by the government. Among all the organizations in the country which deliver financial services, the Department of Posts has the largest outreach in rural India, and more so, in backward and remote areas. Moreover, the Personnel who run the rural Post Office mostly belong to the local communities, and are thus trusted by their clientele enhancing acceptability of financial services by local people.
Post Office Savings Bank is the oldest and the largest banking institution in the country. The money collected through Post Office Saving is also utilized as investment towards nation-building by the Government and various State Governments. Small Savings Schemes operated at Post Offices in the rural areas contributing to the cause of rural development  include Post Office Saving Account, Post Office Recurring Deposit Account, Post Office One, Two, Three, and Five Years Time Deposit, Monthly Income Scheme, Public Provident Fund, Senior Citizen Savings Scheme and National Savings Certificate.
Department of Posts introduced Rural Postal Life Insurance (RPLI) in 1995 for the benefit of rural population with special focus on weaker sections. It aims to ensure access to substantial cash at periodic intervals to meet life cycle expenses on education, marriage and old age. RPLI offers various policies like Whole Life Assurance (Gram Suraksha), Convertible Whole Life Assurance (Gram Suvidha), Endowment Assurance (Gram Santosh), Anticipated Endowment Assurance for 15 and 20, years (Gram Sumangal), 10 years RPLI (Gram Priya) and Children Policy (Bal Jiwan Bima).
Today, India Post delivers financial services as an agent of Ministry of Finance. Under the present setup, India Post cannot extend credit and other banking services to the rural poor. With the proposed Post Bank of India, post offices in India can be repositioned as the proactive agents of ensuring financial inclusion even in the remotest corner of the country. The Proposed Post Bank of India will deliver a host of value added services (micro credit, insurance etc) to existing 237 million postal savings bank customers and will also provide one stop financial services (savings, credit, insurance, remittance and pension) to small and medium sized customers.

Delivery of Monetary Components of Social Security and Other Welfare Schemes

In addition to the overall development of rural areas, the Government and State Governments have been striving to economically and socially develop the households in need of such development by providing them with direct benefits under social security and other welfare schemes. A large part of such schemes is being delivered through the Post Offices due to their unparalleled outreach in rural areas.
The Government enacted the MGNREGA in September 2005 and the scheme came into force in all districts in the country with effect from 1st April 2008. Department of Posts has taken the responsibility to disburse the wages through Post Offices by opening savings bank accounts in the names of MGNREGA beneficiaries. Starting with Andhra Pradesh Postal Circle in 2005, the Scheme of disbursement of MGNREGA wages through Post Offices accounts is currently operational in the entire country excepting Delhi, Jammu & Kashmir and Tamil Nadu Postal Circles (Tamil Nadu and Puducherry). The Scheme is operational through 98168 post offices.
The Department is also contributing to the efforts in financial inclusion by payment of benefits under various social security pension schemes viz. IGNOAPS (Indira Gandhi National Old Age Pension Scheme), IGNWPS (Indira Gandhi National Disability Pension Scheme) and  Indira Gandhi Matritva Sahyog Yojana (IGMSY Scheme), a Conditional Cash Transfer (CCT) Maternity Benefit Scheme. Such payment are being effected either through money orders or Post Office Saving Bank accounts.  

Rural Enterpreneurship Programme

India Post has taken up this ambitious program in association with Tata Institute of Social Sciences and National School of Open Studies. The program aims to convert 3.5 lakh Gramin Dak Sewaks (including Branch Post masters), in to rural entrepreneur through a continuous and vigorous skill development program. It is proposed to cover all the 1,30,000 Branch Postmasters in a phased manner.  This vocational program will cover areas such as financial management, micro finance, IT, communication and leadership skills. The Branch Post Masters will develop the knowhow for postal business such as post office savings bank, insurance and money transfer services. The program will thus give the Branch Postmasters an opportunity to grow as individuals and improve their own finances. It will also tap their talents and make them key resource persons for contributing to the development of the village.  Pilot is being launched with 2000 GDS in seven circles, Assam, Gujarat, Karnataka, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Tamil Nadu and Uttar Pradesh. 

Retail Post
            Department of Posts is being developed as a one-stop shop to provide a range of utility services to the customers and thus providing convenience and affordability at the door steps of the common man.  With Retail Post, India Post will be leveraging the vast network of post offices across India. Services include collection of Electricity bill, Telephone bills, Taxes and Fees. Further under Retail Post, the Post Office sells application forms of AFMC, Universities etc.  Apart from this Gold Coins, Railway tickets etc are being sold through Post Offices. MoU has also been signed between India Post and National Stock Exchange for installation of LCD TVs in select Post Offices for creating “Financial Awareness” among the public.
The Post Offices provide a large number of services in the rural areas through their vast network, trained manpower and time tested operating and accounting procedures. The Department of Posts has the largest outreach, especially in backward and remote areas compared to any other similar institution in the country. Post offices have a rich experience of delivering financial services and a well-established audit trail. The expertise in running Savings Bank and insurance activities of Department can act as a catalyst in transforming the economic and social conditions of the weaker section of the society by not only reaching credit when needed but also enabling to adopt income generating activities leading to asset creation. Post offices are ably suited to deliver all social security measures instituted by State/ Central Governments in an efficient/ transparent manner. The Rural ICT programme will further strengthen the delivery mechanisms of all social security schemes, reduce the delay in payment, and improve the quality of collection and sharing of information between the Post Offices and State Governments concerned. Encouraging Post Offices to remain involved in the activities of rural financial inclusion will ensure sustainable all round development of the rural populace. These features make postal network the most effective vehicle of rural development.
(PIB Features.)

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