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Tuesday, April 28, 2015

In the e-age, postman dons new roles

It was a pleasant Bengaluru day in 1983, Sandalwood actress Jayanthi was still at the peak of her popularity, and unlike today, meetings with actors were not common. Social media and phones with cameras hadn't been born, which meant learning about the lives of celebrities was difficult. But it was a lucky day for A Mohan, just one year into his job as a postman. "I had watched almost all her films. But, I had never imagined that I would get to see her. That day, when I went to deliver a letter to a house, I saw her. Believe me, I had no idea it was her house till then," he recounted the dream meeting, as he sorted letters at his post office. That was over three decades ago. Since then, his work has changed a lot. "Almost like Bengaluru's weather, the changes have been too fast and sudden," said Mohan, now 58. "There have been many changes over the years, but the past five odd years have seen a sea change," he explained. However, that hasn't changed his daily routine. "I walk at least 12km a day. My legs hurt in the evening," he added. 

Far away in Shivamogga, Uduchalappa, a senior postman, went through his routine without much company last Tuesday. Having served for 25 years, and now attached to the Malnad City's main post office, he still has his bicycle, unlike Mohan, who makes deliveries by foot now. 

Recalling an incident in March, he said, "I parked my cycle on Nehru Road and went into a house to deliver a parcel. When I returned, it was missing... I had lost my consignment, I could not eat the whole day." A CCTV camera had captured a boy stealing the bicycle and about three days later, Uduchalappa's postal bag was found in a remote area around 4km away. "I delivered the letters to the addressees and apologized for the delay," Uduchalappa said. He has since then been served a notice for misplacing the consignment. There are several similar tales, but the quintessential postman is evolving to survive. And that can be gauged from the fact that last year, a staggering 1.3 lakh candidates had applied for 248 vacancies for postmen in the Karnataka circle. About 40,000 of these applicants were from the country's tech capital Bengaluru. One such new-age postman is Manjunath S, who joined the department in 2008. He still has to walk to deliver letters. "I've learnt from seniors that a lot has changed over the years, although I joined during the evolution. Some of the stories are fascinating." Besides, the postal department has had a considerable presence of women employees for a long time now. With the telegram dead, postcards and inland letters long forgotten, and a few still depending on money orders — thanks to the internet, all communication can be exchanged in a jiffy — the traditional work of the postman has changed. Seshadripuram post office postmaster Sundar Raj, who joined the department in 1982, said, "When we joined, we would see at least 10,000 registered posts every day and could never keep an exact count of the ordinary ones. Today, the total delivery in this post office per day is 6,000. Anyone can figure out that there is a change." And in Mysuru division, personal communication material forms only 10% of the deliveries they make. The situation is similar across the state. A decade ago, personal communication material like postcards and letters formed 90% of the daily consignment, but today, it has been replaced with business and education-related communication. Despite this change, the bond between postmen and the people to whom they once delivered letters hasn't changed much, the men in khaki said. For instance, people of Bhadravathi taluk in Shivamogga mourned the death of Chandra Shekar, affectionately called 'Post Chandru', in 2011.

"He delivered posts to old town residents and had long-standing relationships with residents. He met with an accident and died on the spot. Residents of the area gathered to offer their condolence," said a local. Elaborating on the connect, Mohan said, "That's because today, we are still doing things that affect people's life. If four decades ago, we only delivered a telegram with good or bad news, today, we sell life insurance policies that protect people's families. We open savings bank accounts for them; even collect their electricity bills." The department is continuing with blue inland letters and traditional postcards that cost 50 paise even when it spends Rs 7 on delivery. Also, services like delivering debit card PIN, driver's licence, passport, scholarship, study material and other education-related communication form the bulk of the consignment the postmen carry now. Among the many new roles that these men in khaki perform now is selling financial and retail services. "We even deliver valuables that are ordered from e-commerce sites such as Amazon and Flipkart," said Raj. O Virupakshappa, assistant superintendent of posts, Mysuru division, said, "Business-related letters have increased by three-fold now. On an average, we receive 50,000 letters and 90% of them are related to business." 

In Dharwad, nearly 150-200 articles are delivered some days under the cash on delivery (COD) scheme. Each postman carries nearly 300-350 posts a day. RK Bheemsena Rao said, "The workload remains the same even as the medium changes. A decade ago, we used to distribute 250-300 letters every day. Now, we distribute almost 200-250 items." To meet this target, the postmen are also turning tech savvy. Ask Geetha A, who joined as a Gramin Dak Sevak (GDS) in 2008. "We have to know how to use computers, which a lot of our seniors did not. All of us, including senior postmen, get trained on a certain software today, as the department moves forward, in sync with today's world." F Rosemary of the 1987 batch agreed. "I had never seen a computer until the department introduced it," she said. Today, the postman may be less visible as compared to a decade ago, but they are not going anywhere — they are adapting to the new age. SS Hosamani, a postman in Hubballi, explained why. "We're always been ready for newer challenges. Carrying valuable things booked on Flipkart or Amazon isn't much of a problem, as over the decades, we had the practice of delivering VPPs (value payable posts). Since I joined in 1991, I've been trained in risk bearing while delivering valuable articles or money," he said. 

New roles of old men in khaki 

Open post office savings account; 5-year post office recurring deposit account; Post office time deposit account; Post office monthly income account scheme; Senior citizen savings scheme; 15-year public provident fund account; National Savings Certificates (NSC); Sukanya Samriddhi Accounts 

2) Postal Life Insurance 

Sell whole life assurance (Suraksha); Convertible whole life assurance (Suvidha); Endowment assurance (Santosh); Aanticipated endowment assurance (Sumangal); Joint life assurance (Yugal Suraksha); Scheme for physically handicapped persons; Children Policy 

3) Rural postal life insurance 

Sell Whole life assurance (Grama Suraksha); Convertible whole life assurance (Grama Suvidha); Endowment assurance (Grama Santosh); Anticipated endowment assurance (Grama Sumangal); Gram Priya; Scheme for physically handicapped persons 

4) Retail Services 

Bill mail service; Direct post; Retail post; ePayment 

Postal numbers 

2: Bengaluru Cantonment and Mangaluru saw the first post offices in the state in the early 19th Century 

9,669 post offices in Karnataka 

9,124 delivery post offices among them 

58 postal head offices 

3,738 Sanctioned strength of postmen (Only those who deliver, those with other duties not included) 

5,250 Gramin Dak Sevaks 

1,55,61,285 live postal savings accounts 

5,09,408 Sukanya Samriddhi accounts 

6,31,610 postal life insurance polices (PLIs) 

Rs 9,184.3 crore: Sum assured under PLIs 

15,89,095 rural postal life insurance polices (RPLIs) 

Rs 7,675.40 cr: Sum assured under RPLIs 

(All figures as on March 31, 2015 | Source: Postal Department, Karnataka Circle) 
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