Through the years: The Indian Postal Department

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Mumbai, Oct 14 (UNI) Not many of us know (or even care) that the National Postal Week just got over on October 13.

The Postal Department seems to have taken a backseat in our minds, especially if one is living in the bigger cities like Delhi and Mumbai. Nowadays, correspondence is usually carried out via the SMS or the Internet, and letters or packages can be sent and delivered at the doorstep by the hundreds of courier services that have mushroomed over the last decades.

Stories of mails being delivered late, or worse, getting lost have become a good conversational topic, and a butt of many a joke over the years.

Today's Gen-X in the urban areas probably wouldn't know where the local post office is situated. All their needs are catered to by a click of a mouse or a telephone call.

Though the 'traditional' postal services as we know it may have been swamped by the deluge of new-age forms of communication, it is very much holding its ground and still provides the majority means of communication in the second-tier towns and rural areas. In its core function that of delivering mail in its various forms -- telegrams, postcards, inland letters and speed post to name but three, it cannot be matched by any of its competitors in terms of reach (over 1,55,000 outlets: the largest in the world and links with 97 countries around the globe) and economy.

''We can sell tea in Assam and the North-East and spices in Kerala, and also mail 'prasads' from temples,'' said M P Rajan, Chief Postmaster General of Maharashtra Circle.

And that is just for starters. The Postal Department carries out a staggering number of services that would certainly spin the head.

It also provides rural credit, insurance, information for farmers regarding crops, warehouse facilities, money transfer, supporting rural self-help groups (SHGs), collection of bills, verification of electorial rolls and addresses.

'' Yes, we provide a large number of services, apart from the basic of delivering mail, savings and insurance at varying prices,'' reaffirms Mr Rajan.

No other institution other than the Railways can boast of providing such an array of services and to so many people in so many places.

Today, the Postal Department has evolved itself to face competition and make use of the opportunities offered by computers, cyberspace and the growing economy. Integrated, end-to-end units, a one stop shop for customers are in the cards. So are portals providing information, Customer Facilitation Centres, IOD facility via SMS, email and telephone, track and trace systems and MIS facility.

It is also imparting computer training and micro financing skills to its staff.

The Indian Post has come a long way after issuing the first postage stamp in 1854. It has started democratising the service that had been a privilege enjoyed only by Heads of State and state officials. Over the years, it has been one of the most vital driving forces of social and economic transformation. At the same time, it has also been a bastion of equality and socialism by providing an affordable means of communication. Never mind the cities, the village postman and post office are still the only connection to the 'outside world' for the millions that (still) live in the rural areas.

Its relevance can be felt even in cities like Mumbai, if one looks more closely. As many as 10,000 people of the Postal Department go out everyday to deliver mails every day. The city alone has 280 post offices, and major business houses and banks like HSBC, HDFC and UTI Securities to name a few are customers of the Postal Department.

The joy of receiving a letter from a friend or a sweetheart is still overwhelming. And until the time, a man discovers or invents an alternative to match that joy, the postman will always have a place in our lives.

UNI

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