Moving ahead with post

The Universal Postal Congress held recently in Geneva expressed concern over the fact that three per cent of the world population does not still have access to basic postal services. It highlighted the need to close the gap in this respect between developed and developing countries. India fares much better in postal services than most developing countries. In fact, it can take credit for creating the world’s largest post office network, with 155,000 offices that perform a variety of social and public service functions. Some studies point to a paradox: notwithstanding the invaluable social role India Post plays, above all in rural and tribal areas, it is classified as a commercial department by the government. For many years, the department has been operating with large revenue deficits, and competition and technological development have only increased the challenge. In fairness to India Post, it has innovated. As the Eleventh Planning Commission notes, the revenue deficits have come down from 52 per cent in 1999 to 24 per cent in 2005. Much more can be done to improve the service, create new products, and increase revenue. The Universal Postal Union, an agency of the United Nations, has a number of suggestions on how to go forward and achieve higher service standards.

New technology provides opportunities as much as it challenges the post. Digital postmarking is yet to be explored in India. The postal department, by dovetailing its huge credibility with mailing software systems, can undertake to certify electronic mail. This will appear as postmarks on mail, providing legal validity and enabling it to be admissible in court. So far only five countries in the world offer this service. The future of postal growth is seen in business-to-home mail enhanced by the growth of e-commerce. While India Post has introduced products such as direct mail, it can integrate its services with commercial websites and enhance its reach. Its great strength is its network. Aside from modernising this by investing in digital infrastructure, as the Eleventh Plan envisions, improved service through human resource development and higher standards, such as keeping the delivery of international mail to less than five working days, as the Universal Postal Union proposes, will become important. And new commitments need to be made. With the world postal sector deploying 850,000 motorised vehicles and hundreds of aircraft, and consuming large quantities of paper, the challenge of creating a greener post is coming to the fore. The recent appointment of a private consultant to look into its restructuring must not be allowed to lead to a cutback in the public service functions of India Post.

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