Ammena Beevi (52) walks 2 km almost every day to reach the post-office in village Edappal, Malappuram district. She has been doing this 4-km journey frequently for the past ten years.
Both her husband and son are in West Asia. Letters and money orders have dried up over the years but still the crimson post-office is the most happening place for her. She frequents it with much expectation but on many occasions returns empty-handed.
Senior officials in the Indian post and telegraph department are unanimous that the number of inland letters and post-cards being delivered these days has come down. That should have brought down the work load for the post and telegraph department.
However, one gets the sense that the opposite seems to be happening in certain respects. A letter sent by speed-post from New Delhi to Kolkata in December took five days to reach (one of the intervening days was a Sunday). Speed-post within Delhi is taking 48 hours.
Now the department of post is planning to spend Rs 100 crore to modernise and upgrade 727 post-offices across the country by 2011.
“We plan to modernise about 727 post offices across the country. We have sent a proposal to the finance ministry seeking Rs 100 crore for funding the project,” Minister of State for Communications and IT Sachin Pilot told reporters recently.
Manpower shortage is visible. The department in Chhattisgarh has 7,397 employees but it feels the need for more post-offices and more staff.
“The staff strength declined because two-thirds of the vacant posts officially were getting abolished every year since 1998. But this rule has now been done away with,” said V.K. Verma, director of the Chhattisgarh postal circle.
The employee strength in Orissa has reduced from 26,000 to 23,000 in the past 10 years. In Jharkhand, the number of post-men is 822 against the sanctioned employee strength of 926. In the past 10 years, just 261 postmen have been appointed. While the population of the state has increased, there has been no change in the number of sanctioned posts since the inception of Jharkhand.
In Kerala, the postal department has 11,829 employees. Ten years ago there were around 3,000 more.
In Uttar Pradesh, though the number of post-offices has increased from 17,200 to 17,700, the number of employees has dipped from 61,000 to 48,000.
The workload pertaining to personal mail and money orders has decreased in some circles. For example, in the Chhattisgarh circle, the number of envelopes delivered has declined by 30.4 per cent in the past 10 years, post-cards 17.35 per cent, and inland letters 6.93 per cent. But work has increased in other areas like corporate mail, speed post, and e-enabled services.
However, the decline in personal mail delivery has not translated into reduction in revenue earned since a major share of the earning comes from the business segment (services dealing business-to-business or business to customers).
The number of savings bank accounts in Chhattisgarh is increasing at more than 60 per cent every year. In 2008-09, the increase was 67 per cent, and in 2009-10 it was as high as 85 per cent till December 2009, which led to growth in both business and revenue.
“The postal department (in Chhattisgarh), which was incurring losses during the first four-five years of its functioning as a separate circle (in the state), has achieved the revenue target (Rs 60 crore) in the current financial year with about two months still to go,” said V.K. Verma, director of the Chhattisgarh postal circle.
In the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGS), there are more than 3.2 million NREGS account holders in Chhattisgarh. An official source told HT that 80 per cent of all NREGS payments in Bihar to beneficiaries were being made through post offices. “We have more than 4 million NREGP accounts at post offices in Bihar,” the official said.
Vivek Kumar Daksh, senior officer, India Post, UP circle, said: “The mail volume has gone down because people are not writing letters or even sending greetings cards. But this drop has been compensated to an extent by the increasing volume of bills paid through the postal department — telephone, financial statements, electricity, etc.”
Select post-offices in Bihar and Jharkhand will soon have ATM facilities and start offering banking services. However, no date has been announced for introducing the core banking solutions (CBS) facility at post-offices. Chances are these services may commence in 2010-11.
“Work is going on in full swing for updating records for the introduction of CBS. We expect to secure authenticated balance required for this purpose soon,” Patna GPO Chief Post Master BB Sharan told Hindustan Times.
Another important service in the offing is the sale of judicial stamps by post-offices in all district courts of Bihar, beginning with Hajipur. This service is being offered at the Patna High Court.
The Indian postal department is refurbishing itself. But unless the problem of manpower shortage is addressed, the core operations of the department will suffer.
With inputs from Ejaz Kaisar in Raipur, Ramesh Babu in Thiruvananthapuram, Ashok Mishra in Patna, Surya Surya in Lucknow, Nahid Parveen in Ranchi, Priya Ranjan Sahu in Bhubaneswar, and Sobhapati Samom in Imphal.