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An ode to India Post

Srinivasan Balakrishnan

Despite the instant messaging services like whatsapp, SMS and the social networking sites, there is nothing like receiving a personalizedhandwritten letter. As India Posts enters its 163rd year, here are some interesting facts about the largest network in the world. World Post Day is celebrated each year on 9 October. The event was declared by the 1969 Universal Postal Congress in Tokyo as a means to mark the anniversary of the Universal Postal Union's (UPU) creation in 1874.-                   

 It might sound unbelievable but world’s first airmail flight took off from India! It was on 18th February 1911 that a private plane took off from Allahabad to deliver mail at Naini, 18 km across the Ganges. A commemorative stamp was issued in 1961 on the occasion of Golden Jubilee of the world’s first Aerial Post.

The credit for issuing Asia’s first postal stamp also goes to India. Such a stamp was issued in Sindh (now in Pakistan) in 1852 and was in use till 1866. This rarest of rare stamp is collectors’ pride. Sir Bartel Frere, the Commissioner of Sindh, introduced paper stamps for his province in 1852. These stamps, known as Scinde Dawk, were round in shape and were issued in three variations. They were withdrawn in October 1854 on the introduction of the regular India Postage Stamps, though their use continued for quite some time.

In 1854, it was decided to issue stamps for the British India and, in the interest of the economy, it was also decided to have them printed in India itself. Accordingly, on 1st October 1854, half anna stamps showing a youthful profile of Queen Victoria were issued. Commemorative stamps were issued in 1954 to mark the centenary of this event.

The year 1854 was a landmark year for the country’s postal service on various other counts as well. An all-comprehensive Indian Post Office Act was enacted in that year only. Again, it was in 1854 that rail mail service (RMS) began. The sea mail service from India to Britain and China also commenced in that year.

While the 1854 stamps bore the inscription 'India Postage', in the same year this was changed to 'East India Postage'. In 1882, this was again changed to 'India Postage' and continued till November 1962 when a new caption '????' 'INDIA' was introduced.

The first independence stamps, issued in 1947, were three in number. They depicted the 

Ashoka Pillar (National Emblem of India), the Indian National Flag and an Aircraft. 

With a total of more than 1.54 lakh post offices, India Post ranks as the world’s largest postal network. The beginning for this was in 1727 when the first post office was opened in Calcutta (now Kolkata). About 90% of these are in rural areas.  At the time of independence there were only 23,344 post offices, mostly in urban areas. On an average, a post office serves 21.22 sq. km. area and a population of 8,354. This varies from 6,193 in rural to 26,198 in urban areas.

The number of post boxes installed is almost five times the number of post offices, i.e., more than five lakhs. As varied is our landscape, varied are the modes of post offices - there are floating post offices on lakes and rivers. The number of employees is also an amazing 4.60 lakh (both departmental and Gramin Dak Sevaks). There are 23 postal circles in the country in the range of almost one for each state but also combining smaller states together or smaller states / UTs with neighbouring states. For the armed forces of our country there is an exclusive Army Postal Service Circle.

The annual mail traffic handled by India Post is around 20 crore registered mail and a voluminous 561 crore unregistered mail; of this, the humble 50 Paise post card alone accounts for 195 crore! Speed Post counts for a traffic of more than 3 crore every month! The total revenue earned in 2014-15 was Rs. 11,635.98 crore. On its part, India Post also strives to preserve its 38 heritage buildings spread across the country.

Like the kings & queens of yore, you can also have a stamp that features you under ‘My Stamp’ facility. The Gen Z might call this as Selfie Stamps! According to a Postal Department website, ‘My Stamp’ is the brand name for personalized sheets of Postage Stamps of India Post.  To face the challenges of modern times and varied service requirements, the post offices are being computerized and equipped with Core Banking Solutions (CBS) to roll out payment banking services also. Post Offices are becoming nerve centres of innumerable activities by providing financial services, including Postal Life Insurance, disbursal of social security pension schemes, MGNREA payments, Direct Benefit Transfers and retail services.

One of the missions of India Post is to sustain its position as the largest postal network in the world and at the same time touching the lives of every citizen in the nook & corner of our vast country. As a Government of India platform, India Post functions as the last mile connectivity.?

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