Delhi postmen demand better working conditions

For a few days in July, postmen in different parts of the country delivered mails in half knickers and under shirts as a mark of protest. They alleged that the poor quality of uniform provided to them by the Department of Posts (under the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology) was unfit for use. These uniforms, too, are given far and wide.

“Our uniforms are torn, they have faded and they stink. How can we wear such a uniform to work?” say postmen at the Gol Dak Khana in the Capital.

But the issue of uniforms is just the tip of the iceberg. The postmen in Delhi reportedly haven’t been provided footwear for the past four years and bags to carry mails for over 20 years. “In London they get gumboots in winters and sunglasses for summer,” says Ishwar Singh Dabas, General Secretary, All India Postal Employees’ Union (AIPEU), leading the protest in the Capital. Moreover, they are also not given bicycles for delivery duty. Only recently, for the first time, the Department of Posts has floated a tender to procure 30,000 bicycles for postmen in the Capital.

The postmen’s working condition is equally bad with insufficient chairs, some even broken or extremely dirty, at several post offices. Many offices do not have separate changing rooms or toilets for women staff.

Severe staff crunch is another problem ailing the department, thus putting extra work load on the existing postmen. While the Department of Posts claim that the number of letters has reduced owing to the advent of mobile phones and Internet, the ground reality, according to the union, is different.

According to it, there were 70,000-80,000 postmen across India in 1984. Some of them retired, died or got promoted, thus reducing their numbers. A government order against new recruitment passed at the time stopped replenishing the vacant posts. Delhi had 25,000 postmen in 1990; now there are only 1,700 even as the number of houses has grown manifold and so has the distance.

With the arrival of mobile phones and Internet, the number of letters may have been reduced but not the number of mails; they keep coming in the form of wedding cards, mobile bills, electricity bills, business letters, etc. With the population growing exponentially even in tier-II cities, the numbers of posts have also increased manifold.

The technology has not helped him as much as it should have. In his eight hours of designated duty as per the DOP norms, he has to dedicate two hours in his office in filling all details in the computer, and then go to the field to deliver mail. But as largely there is one computer for several postmen, he has to dedicate more time in the office. He cannot go out before the afternoon to deliver mail. That eats into his delivery time. “His duty hours are 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. or 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. He is largely given a target of delivering, say for instance, 3000 mail during his duty time. If he starts from his office in the afternoon, how will he complete his target?” asks Mr. Dabas.

Then there is the “faulty” beat measurement issue. An area with 2,500 population that falls within one mile is regarded as ‘congested area’ for the postman. Earlier, a postman would get a ‘Mile Time’ of 12 minutes which was sufficient to cover several houses in one go. Now the Department of Posts has changed the Mile Time to square km which has reduced the time to nine minutes. “Now we get three minutes to deliver one money order while only crossing that ‘congested area’ takes 10 minutes on foot or bicycle,” say the postmen.