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Monday, May 30, 2016

India Post: First get the basics right

May 30, 2016,

I bet you have not been to a post office for years. I too haven’t. So I do not know much about what’s going on there.

But I am delighted when i google top news for Indian Post office. Apparently, it is undergoing a big makeover. It is opening up ATMs. It is going hi-tech and has geotagged 1.5 lakh post offices. Through a mobile app, it is monitoring timely clearances of the letter boxes. It will start postal payments bank by 2017 and will start selling third party products. Big companies from Citibank to Barclays and Bajaj Auto Finance seem to be interested. It has earned Rs 1300 crore in 2015-16 by delivering e-tailers cash-on-delivery consignments.

But right now, instead of going by Google news, I have some close second-hand experience of Indian Post Offices. And let me narrate that. Ever since I can remember, my father, 74 now, has been its loyal customer. Partly thanks to his age-old habit, his comfort level, legacy investments and also poor exposure to financial saving instruments, from savings to FDs a large part of his modest savings are with the India Post. In the past we have tried to dissuade him from making any more investments in it but for him the assurance, comfort and certainty of a government-backed outfit was too big and hence preferable to privately-managed mutual fund investments in the volatile stock market. Finally we gave in, realising that in old age, there are anxieties and insecurities that one deals with that is difficult to realise when one is young. For example, my father still insists on keeping a savings account passbook which is duly and painstakingly updated whenever he withdraws or deposits money into the account. That’s the only way he knows how much money he has in the account. He has yet not gotten comfortable using ATM cards which is used only in emergency.

So over the last week, every day he has been doing the rounds of post office. Yesterday he was at Lakshmi Nagar post office. He reached there in the morning. He had to encash his fixed deposit which had matured. He waited there for about four hours. His turn never came and he returned. Today he left home and reached post office by 9.15. Post offices open at 9 AM. He was 26th in the queue. Apparently, people start queuing up by 6 am. Think of the place like a small classroom. About 30-40 people packed in the peak summer days. There is seating space for just five people -so many people old like my father stand sweating in the heat. Of course there is no question of having drinking water or toilet on the premises. He returned home post noon today, tired. But his job is half done. The FD money has been moved to his savings account but it is yet to be credited and hence the passbook has not been updated and of course he cannot withdraw cash from his account yet.

Having changed residences from Mukherjee Nagar to Greater Noida, Gulmohar Park to Mayur Vihar and now Bhiwadi, his savings are scattered in small amounts in multiple post offices. And what happened in Lakshmi Nagar is a regular story across all post offices, he says. Almost 50% of the time- yes 50% – computers do not work as the server is down. So no transactions can happen on those days. In Noida Sector 16 branch, a relatively large branch, dealing with savings account was stopped due to some issues. After over six months, finally the dealings have been transferred to Sector 19 branch.

There are multiple issues with our post offices. Speed is slower in the computerised era today than the manual era of the past, my father says. Indifferent staff attitude – the norm in many government outfits – do not help. For record, India Post has over 4.5 lakh employees. Agents do brisk business. Go through an agent, pay some commission to him and he can get your job done quickly.

This is the state of affairs in Delhi, India’s capital. Think about what would be happening in remote parts of the country, our villages.

I understand it will take a long time and lot of effort to change things at India Post. But here are a few quick and easy suggestions my father has – none of them very difficult and capital intensive to do. Considering that a good chunk of the investors – i am presuming – will be old like my father (younger lots are exploring other investment opportunities), at least provide for a separate counter to handle their queries and make their life a little easy. Old bones get creaky and weak. Offering some basic comforts – like seating space – will be a big help. Drinking water and toilet too can be helpful. One knows that this will not be easy to do. But as the government lays thrust to modernize-digitise-commercialise India Post, it should pay equal attention to some of the basic things that any services company must get right.

DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author's own.


A journalist curious about how a growing economy is changing us as a nation and a society.

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