Senior citizens are lifeline of the department; virtual post offices or e-post offices are the future which will attract youngsters

His relationship with the post office started when he was barely 10. S. Sampath, a septuagenarian, continues to correspond through what many people call the “snail mail service” despite all odds and dissuasion from his family.

For over 60 years, Mr. Sampath has seen the service attain enviable heights of repute, success and efficiency, and then rapidly lose its traditional relevance in the face of modern technology. His son often teases him for posting cards, but nothing stops the septuagenarian from using the Department's services.

“There is no one to pass on my stamp collection in my family. I have stopped writing long letters to my relatives in the village,” said the retired teacher from Kalaivanar Colony, Anna Nagar West.

With the digital world expanding by the day, the idea of a simple hand-written letter seems to be on its way into history. The virtual extinction of hand-written letters is also impacting sale of inland letters and post cards. Individual mails have shrunk to less than 20 per cent of the Postal Department's deliveries.

Bhanurekha Sundar, a resident of Ashok Nagar, said: “When I was young, I used to post 20 to 30 greeting cards. Now, I send and receive greetings through text messages and e-mails. I miss the excitement. I realise that none of us has much time anymore for such niceties.”

Today, if you see customers walking into a post office, they are most likely to despatch something by speed post, to remit bills, send parcels or use its banking services. Launch of more parcel packaging centres and success of retail services and savings schemes, however, are signs of possible demand for its newer services.

Shrinking numbers

Corporates and government departments keep its services going, but the Postal Department is clearly losing its individual customers. A postmaster who did not want to be named said: “The number of individual customers has reduced to 50 per cent compared to two decades ago. There were days when sub-post offices dealt with 10,000 individual mails daily.”

Mergers have brought down the number of post offices as well. Currently there are only around 200 post offices in Chennai and its suburbs and nearly 75 per cent of these are in rented buildings that are under threat of either being moved or closed down.

Sources in the All India Postal Employees Union said that of the 273 post offices in the city only 170 are presently functioning. Many one-man post offices had to be closed as the revenue generated was low.

Officials said the department was on the look out for rented accommodation at affordable rates for post offices. “We have been asking the Chennai Corporation for space. But they are yet to give us concrete replies. Private persons are not willing to rent buildings to us.”

Exploring new avenues

To cope with the mounting expenditure and the heavy subsidising of its primary services, the postal department is morphing into a multi-service provider. The annual growth rate varied between 10 to 15 per cent. The total monthly revenue generated by Chennai city is around Rs.6 crore of which Speed Post alone contributes Rs.2.40 crore. There are also customers who give business worth Rs.25 lakh per month.

“We are taking steps to make post offices more customer friendly by improving the quality of services in areas, including Adyar, Tambaram and T. Nagar. We have authorised 25 franchisees that do all our operations excluding banking and insurance,” said an official.

However, computerisation has not spread to all post offices. “Though a portion of the 2,500 employees in Chennai still find it difficult to adapt to technology, the department also has not been able to implement computerisation universally, which leads to delay in processing time,” admitted a postal official.

‘Sell stamp paper'

J. Srivenkatesh, State president, All India Postal Employees Union, said there was no separate cadre for system operations support. “If there is a problem in the system, nobody knows how to set it right,” he said.

Questioning the rationale behind closing post offices and offering more retail products to customers, he said that in the last two years around 60 post offices have been closed in Chennai. “We have been suggesting that post offices sell stamp paper… we sell revenue stamps anyway. It would be a profit spinning enterprise,” he said.

The Union has been campaigning for removing the system of hubs in Speed Post services as it would only lead to slowing down of deliveries.

“We ensure that 95 per cent Speed Post is delivered on time. Sometimes there is a delay due to non-availability of the person or address being unclear. Parcel services too are very popular with customers. T. Nagar and Mylapore post offices do business up to Rs.1 crore a month at times,” said Postmaster General (Chennai City Region) M.S. Ramanujan.

Shanthi Srinivasan, marketing executive, said proof of address cards, sale of gold coins and parcel services were top of the retail services. “We have good response from customers for services including sale of application forms for universities, HMT watches and solar lamps.”

The expansion of services has led to an increase in work load. A postal assistant who joined recently said: “We work for nearly 12 hours to beat the competition from courier companies. We collect bulk letters from corporate clients. We also have to canvass customers to purchase our retail products.”

Admitting that the senior citizens are the lifeline of the department, the official said virtual post offices or e-post offices are the future of the department to attract youngsters to use the services.

What they say

M.S.Ramanujan, Postmaster General, Chennai City Region

We are repositioning and re-engineering ourselves to be relevant to the changing needs of the customers. The launch of retail services and parcel packaging centres and strengthening of banking services are the recent moves to stay in touch with customers. We are focussing on relocation of post offices instead of closure. There are also plans for a massive technological upgradation in the next two years.

Elizabeth Sam, homemaker from Madipakkam

The habit of writing letters had many incentives. We had pen friends across the world, and more than the letter, we valued the stamps. Collecting stamps and knowing about them has helped me to de-stress myself throughout the 50 years that I have been collecting them. I like collecting thematic stamps, mainly on flora and fauna, and now, I collect a lot of Sri Lankan stamps. My sustained interest in stamps has not only helped me as a teacher, but also ensured that I had interesting things to do, even after retirement.

G. Kaliasundaram, Investor, post office scheme

Being a senior citizen, I find the services of the postal agents very satisfactory. Even at odd hours in the day, we can call them up and speak. We invest in the postal scheme because it is convenient for us, and we do not have to go to the office personally for every need. However, if their business is affected, it will in turn affect us.

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