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Friday, July 28, 2017

Post Script: It Works

In email and mobile era, the postal system is adapting to change remarkably well

The ring of the postman’s bicycle bell was music to the ears for most people in the cities and towns, especially villages where his unofficial job was also to read the letter and often have a cup of tea with the receiver. We hardly see the postman these days because personal letters are now nearly extinct. 

Not much research is required to find out the reason for the decline in personal letters. The decline began with the arrival of the internet, and the mobile phone did the rest. The familiar red post boxes are now a mere reminder of the glorious days of the dak.

Although in the past decade, the email and the mobile have emerged as great threats to the traditional postal system, the Indian postal system was one of the biggest services in the country known for its efficiency and speed. Established in 1837, there were 889 post offices handling nearly 43 million letters and over 4.5 million newspapers annually by 1861. This growth was unabated until the advent of the internet and the mobile phone.

The general impression is that no one uses the postal system these days for sending letters. Is this impression correct?

 “People think the number of postal letters delivered by India Post has gone down. Actually, this is not the case,” says SS Kaushal, Senior Post Master at the General Post Office, Sector 17, Chandigarh.  “Only the volume of personal letters has gone down, official letters have gone up more than tenfold. However, the sale of postcards, inland letters, envelopes and stamps has gone down very badly. You hardly see private letters these days.”

Tirlok Singh, a postman who has been on the beat for two decades, too agrees that he hardly delivers personal letters these days. “Even the poor have a mobile, so they prefer to speak to their relatives and friends rather than write a letter and post it.” 

Keeping up with the times

Since the digital technology is here to stay, India Post is adapting to it remarkably well. It is the job of Mandeep Puri, Systems Manager at GPO, Chandigarh, to introduce new technology and train the staff so that they can serve the customers better. “We have trained our staff to slowly catch up with technology. For example, we now have an online savings bank, Postal Life Insurance, time deposit, and ATM services.”

If the post office is going to do all this, what would be the difference between the banks and the post office? “Postal services are faster,” remarks Puri with a smile, “Banks charge money for the services, we give our services free of cost or at minimal cost.”

In order to compete with private courier services, India Post has added premium services such as the Speed Post and BSoft technology. Since no private service can compete with the vast network of India Post, Speed Post is highly efficient, especially in remote regions. The newly introduced BSoft technology has made the clearance of cheques easy, quick and much cheaper than the traditional money order.

Talking further on the advantages of using the postal service, Monica Bhardwaj, Postal Assistant, says: “First, we had money order, then came electronic money order but even that took three to four days because the post man used to deliver it at home. Now, the department has launched a new facility called instant money order. The money is transferred within ten minutes. All you do is pay at one post office and within 10 minutes, it can be encashed in another post office, except in villages. Through electronic money order, the limit was Rs 5,000, but through instant money order, it is Rs 50,000 and the commission we charge is only Rs 120.”

Another very useful product introduced is the e-Post. It bridges the gap between the physical post and email. For email, both persons must have a computer and an internet connection, but suppose you do not have these, and you want to send a message urgently? AK Rai, Systems Administrator, says, “You go to a post office, we take your message and mail it to the nearest post office of the receiver. There, our person takes a printout and delivers it as physical mail within 24 hours. And we charge only Rs 10 per A4 size sheet. The cost includes typing, printing, envelope and delivery charge. We have our own network and email service, so we are not dependent upon other service providers. It is like a modern version of the telegram.” 

So will we see a reduction in physical mail in future? “No matter what technology is introduced, the physical mail will always be there,” says Rai. “Physical records have their own value. I have preserved my appointment letter to this day, and its value is only increasing with time. Even now people post greeting cards, why? It is because they have a personal touch that is lacking in e-greetings and emails.”

You may send a love letter by email, but would it have the same impact if you wrote the letter by hand? Says Rai, “They are superficial and ephemeral. Because you know what was sent to you was also forwarded to 50 other people. Physical mail will go on because it has connection with the heart.” 

There is a possibility of the handwritten letter making a comeback in a new avatar.

Write letter, win Rs 50,000 
  • In order to promote handwritten letters, the Ministry of Communications, Department of Posts, has announced ‘Dhai Akhar’, a letter-writing competition in Hindi, English or any vernacular language. The competition has two categories: for those below 18 years and for those above 18 years. One may write an inland letter, or an envelope by August 15.
  • The theme of the letter is: Bapu (Mahatma Gandhi), you inspire me.
  • In both categories, there are three prizes. First prize is Rs 50,000, second prize Rs 25,000, and third prize Rs 10,000.
  • For more details, visit:
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