Sunday, 9 July 2023

Post offices have never become redundant, we’ve always evolved: S Rajendra Kumar.

 Post offices have never become redundant, we’ve always evolved: S Rajendra Kumar.

Post offices have been affected to some extent, but we always have had the knack of converting threats into opportunities, Rajendra Kumar adds.

Chief Post Master General S Rajendra Kumar. (Photo | Special Arrangement)

The sheer joy of the postman delivering a letter from a friend is today replaced by the ping of a WhatsApp message. In this era of instant messaging, has snail mail become redundant? Not at all, says Chief Post Master General S Rajendra Kumar.

“Our service industry has evolved and kept pace with the changing requirements of the public,” he tells The New Sunday Express in a freewheeling chat.

How have post offices changed with the advent of technology? Post Offices used to be the lifeline of the country. With technological advancements evolving so much, how have they managed to stay relevant?

 Interestingly, post offices have always adapted themselves to the latest technology. The modern post office came into being in 1954. It was entirely a manual system. The telegraph systems were being implemented, and a telegraph line was laid between Europe and India.

Then when the telephones entered, we adapted ourselves and we were called the Postal and Telecommunications Department that time. Of course, postal services are basically transportation from one place to another. When we started off, it was bullock carts and horse carts. You know even before we started using motorized vehicles, we had taken to flight. Interestingly, India Post is the first postal administration anywhere in the world to use aircraft for transportation of mail.  It was adapted in 1912 in Allahabad (Pragyaraj).

The post office has a tradition of being at the forefront of technology. When it comes to the IT revolution, the post office was among the first organisations to introduce computers in the early 1990s. A post office counters used to have a PC in the early 90s. 

We have had an integrated computerised network since 2012. When it comes to postal transmission itself, personal communications have almost vanished. Even if they are there, they are more like ceremonial communications.

Another major change is that from the monopoly we enjoyed till the early 90s, it has now become a very competitive environment with multiple service providers. Post offices have been affected to some extent, but we always have had the knack of converting threats into opportunities. We have collaborated with all our competitors as none of them have such a big network all over the country. We have tie-ups with major e-commerce people like Amazon and Myntra. This is an expanding market and the latest trend is of our customers not willing to step out for many of their necessities. We have start-ups that provide online booking facilities. One such, Kovil, provides booking facility for any courier you want. We have already registered with that. If you have picked up Speed Post, the delivery comes to the nearest post office and you can pick it up.

There has been a drastic decline in the number of letters sent by the public with the advent of emails and other new technologies...

When it comes to personal letters, it is also the ability of a person to express himself or herself. I think psychologists will agree that a growing child needs to be able to express herself. Letters are a great way to do that. So, we do try to propagate the art of writing though the Postal Week competitions. But these are all ceremonial and there needs to be more institutional intervention once every two to three months of different age groups until the age of 18. The letter-writing competition is held every March and the good news for Karnataka is that the first and third places nationally have been secured by students from here. We are finding ways to encourage letter writing.

What are the new postal savings schemes you have launched?
Mahila Samman Savings Certificate. We first introduced it on April 1 this year and banks were supposed to introduce them too. But only the POS have them now. This is a scheme exclusively for women with a maximum deposit permitted being Rs 2 lakh and it will earn a compound interest. We already have interesting and popular schemes, one of which is the Kanya Samriddhi introduced in 2014, in which a girl child from 10 years old is eligible. But I always recommend the Public Provident Fund due to the power of compound interest. It is a 15-year fund, but it can always be extended by five more years. By the time the child grows up, a substantial corpus will be built. One can invest up to Rs 1.5 lakh in this account which gets compounded. This is the best scheme for students.

Tell us more about the India Post Payments Bank (IPPB) account as the awareness about it is very less.

IPPB is a public sector bank promoted by the Postal Department and it has been in existence since 2017. Its growth has been phenomenal. In the last six years, IPPB has got a depositor base of six crore. There is no other bank which has grown so fast. It is a completely digital account and you don’t need any paper. It has got doorstep services. Apart from the savings ac

count, we now have a gamut of financial service products. Apart from savings and life insurance, post offices did not have medical insurance, accident insurance or other services but now we offer them through third party tie-ups. For instance, we have a tie-up with TATA AIG, Bajaj Life to offer all other financial services.

You can use your bank as your savings account and can also use the IPPB as your expenditure account. Whatever your expenses, you can transfer that to IPPB and settle all your payments through it now. You can link your GPay if you like to your IPPB account. That way you will not expose your bank account.

What about the ease of your Recurring Deposit Schemes?
We now have electronic fund transfer and interoperability with all banks. A good feature of the Post Office Savings Bank is that you have a single IFSC code for the entire Postal network unlike banks where each branch has a different code. For us, it is IPOS0000DOP. Similar is the case of IPPB IPOS0000001. This is something unique about POs.

Recruitments are still going on which is good. However, we had a personal connection with the Postman earlier. We do not see that anymore. How are you working on it.

The post office thrives on inter-person connection. The workforce has come down drastically, by at least 40%. It has sort of stabilised now. The nature of work has changed completely. Though the letter delivery has come down, the postman also carries the financial services instruments with him. Retired persons want a lifetime certificate for their pensions which we do at their doorsteps now. Passport Seva Kendras, Aadhaar centres and every type of citizen service we are trying to provide. From January to April, we have delivered 40 lakh EPIC cards. We have an Aadhaar-based seeding drive on now.  The postman is more of a teacher in financial literacy to the public rather than a letter deliverer.

What is the status of post boxes?
If we find there are not enough letters posted in a letter box and decide to withdraw it, we immediately get a letter asking us why it was withdrawn. It is not so easy to withdraw a post box. It is viewed as a prestige symbol. There are a few post boxes with heritage value like the one at West End or at Indian Institute of Science.

You spoke about a decline in the workforce by 40%...
That is over a period of time. When I started my service, there were 6 lakh postal employees across the country, now it is around 4.5 lakh.  This has happened over the last 30 years. This year, there is a major thrust towards filling up all our vacancies. In the South, particularly, there is a problem of attrition. There is a target that by the end of this year, we will not have any staff shortage.

To verify addresses, courier companies used to rely on Post Offices. Is it still being done?
The pin code is required for any online transaction too to assess if a service is available in a particular area. We have realised that a lot of wrong boundaries too have been marked. We have taken up a project with Google for getting authentic pin code boundaries. Some cities have been covered with Bengaluru being done. By the end of this year the project will be completed. There are 19,000 pin codes in India. We are next working on a digital address system with a unique identity and geo boundaries.

Going forward, where do you see POs in the next decade?
We have always been relevant. We are transforming ourselves into a service delivery organisation. With the advent of IT, the service industry has grown exponentially. There will be no end to the service industry.


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