Portrait of a postman

- June 4, 2023
| By : Muhammad Tahir |

The modern postman, now responsible for delivering only parcels and government documents, has to upgrade himself with digital skills even as job security and benefits have diminished

PICK AND DROP: A man standing in front of a letterbox with a letter in hand

The role of a postman, or dakiya in common parlance, is best summarised in the song, Dakiya Daak Laya from the 1977 Bollywood flick Palkon Ki Chhaaon Mein starring Rajesh Khanna in protagonist’s role and Hema Malini.

In the first two stanzas itself, the song explains the basic role of the postman, which is bringing good and bad news to people, giving them lifelong unforgettable moments.

But cut to the digital age, where social media tools are being used by people to connect, the duties of a postman have changed drastically.

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From being ‘a man for all seasons’, who wears a khaki uniform, holds a bag full of personal letters on his shoulder, and roams around the streets on a bicycle or a two-wheeler helping connect people by conveying letters, he is now a man generally seen carrying business documents and others like Aadhar card, pan card and passport.

“There has been a big change in the work of post office over the last 15 years thanks to proliferation of technology. The work has moved from traditional daak to business daak. However, post office service will continue to exist as there is still no substitute for post office service in some areas,” Dinesh Singh Rana, who is the Head Postmaster of New Delhi, South Division Post Office, told Patriot.

Kapil Dev, a permanent postman posted at the Kalkaji head office since 2018, talked to Patriot about other utility areas of postal service.

BAGGAGE: A postman carrying his modern red bag that contains items for delivery

“The nature of our duty has changed. There is a huge difference in the daak service now as compared to old times. India Post has started the India Post Payments Bank (IPPB) service. In this, we go to people’s homes to open their accounts in the post office. The workload has increased. Apart from this, we also collect money from customers and deposit them in the post office and distribute speed posts besides the ordinary daak.”

With the theme ‘Aapka Bank, Aapke Dwaar’, the India Post Payments Bank (IPPB) was launched on September 1, 2018, under the Ministry of Communications of the Government of India to provide doorstep banking services and increase rural per capita income by tapping the savings of rural people.

Carrying important documents

Naresh Chauhan, a 54-year-old retired airman was busy on a desktop in his office preparing to deliver in the Greater Kailash area, when Patriot dropped in.

“In the rural areas, people respect postmen even today. But not here (metropolitan cities). Nowadays, we collect passbooks of senior citizens who can’t visit here and file an entry, make birth certificates, and deliver speed posts. If they are not present at home, we visit again,” said Chauhan who joined as a postman in 2018 and now working as a postal assistant since.

HI-TECH: Technology is being used by India Post in a big way, from assigning duties to tracking the delivery and addressing complaints

Dinesh Rana, who started working in the post office in 1992 as a postal assistant and has now graduated to the position of head postmaster, explained, “Basically, the service of India Post has shifted from delivering personal and private daak like greeting cards, inland letter cards among others to government daak such as passport, pan card, job letters, Aadhar card among others. After digitalisation, we began providing devices to postmen so that they can record delivery on their mobile phones. Also, posts are separated from each other through machines. Facilities for the public have been increased surely. Now anyone can check the delivery status of their documents online and ask the post office why they have not received them on time. Also, fraudulence has decreased. If I do any transaction from here, our DG can also check it in his office.”

Rana said that people don’t expect personal letters nowadays from postmen.

“Nowadays, no one waits for the postman for chitthi (letter) but only for important documents like passport. Postcards and antardeshi (inland letter) cards have almost disappeared. In earlier times, on occasions like the New Year, we would parcel so many greeting cards that they will be carried on a truck. But now the use of letterbox has decreased by around 50%,” he added further.

Changing with times

Madan Saha, 55, who is currently posted at the Kalkaji Head Office, has just completed his ‘silver jubilee’ as a postman. He travels daily to his office from Haryana’s Najafgarh.

Despite initial hiccups, he learned the digital mobile system but still delivers daak on his bicycle in Kalkaji Extension.

“When I joined [in 1997], there was no digitalisation. When the department went digital, it gave us training. I am still learning. The format of daak may have changed completely, but I still deliver it on a bicycle because I can’t ride a scooter or bike. All communities know me in this area, if not by name, but by face. The importance of postman will continue because it connects us with the public. Even today, people have faith in postmen. To retain people’s faith, we do our duty properly and with responsibility.”

SET ASIDE: The carts on which the sorted postal mail is kept

Himanshu Nagar, who rides his motorcycle to delivery and carries a big red bag on his back with Bhartiya Daak along with the India Post logo printed on it, has been working as postman for over a year. He wears the traditional khaki dress but uses the latest technology.

“I collect post from the office at 8.30 in the morning and go to deliver it in my area. During the delivery, I use the Postman Mobile Application (PMA) installed in my phone. It shows 14 options such as area, name, location besides others like door lock and refusal. We deliver accordingly.”

Explaining the process of using the application, he says, “When we deliver and click the option in the app, it also reflects in our office. The office can also check whether the daak has been delivered or not. It’s a proof that we have delivered the post to the correct person. If anyone claims or complains that he didn’t receive the post, the post office can prove the delivery through records.”

The PMA, which was launched in 2017, is an Android-based mobile application service which enables postmen to complete the capturing of mail delivery data in real time, using mobile phones. This application that can be used by postman/delivery staff for delivering various articles including items on cash on delivery.

Contractual employment

Besides Indian Post delivery being largely restricted to parcels and government documents, the other change in postal service is employment of staff on contract basis.

READY TO DELIVER: Most of the stuff being delivered by India Post nowadays comprises parcels and government documents

This is done through Officer Distribution Plan (ODP) basis. Those employed under this have neither job security nor other facilities and perks that permanent employees get despite the work and responsibilities of both being the same.

An ODP postman, who doesn’t want to be identified, shared his difficulties of working as a postman.

“I have no job security. We (OPD) are not even registered as employees. We didn’t get a mobile even though the permanent employees have got it from the department. Also, they didn’t give us any proof of identity (ID card) which puts us in a problem. How can people believe us to be postmen. They often ask us to provide ID card. They must provide us with an ID, even if it is temporary.”

Satyaprakash Pandey, Postal assistant of Kalkaji Nodal Delivery Centre (NDC), told Patriot, “The permanent vacancies in the Post Office are limited in number. If they would select 100 postmen earlier, they are now hiring only 10 in permanent slots.”
He explained the reason behind employing staff on temporary basis.

“They have gone for ODP instead of permanent due to cost-cutting measures. Someone working under ODP gets Rs 20,000 a month while the one employed in similar position on permanent basis gets around Rs 40,000. People are joining ODP due to unemployment crisis. There are only two permanent and over 15 ODP postmen here.”

Pandey, however, claims that the India Post services have improved largely thanks to shifting from manual to digital services.

“If you want to search 10-year-old daak, you can easily search on computer. Earlier, it was very tough to trace. Also, a big change has taken place after the IT revolution. If anyone’s daak gets delayed now, he can complain on the ‘India Post’ website. Our officers give us immediate instructions to look into the complaint and address it,” he reveals.

DELIVERY POINT: Parcel delivery service at the Kalkaji Post Office

Pandey claims that people trust in the post office more than the bank even today in the rural areas. “The counter is very crowded daily,” he adds.

The only option

There are a total of 545 post offices spread across the Delhi. The number touches 1.55 lakh pan-India. Pandey also claimed that the postal service will remain relevant because of its ability to deliver items.

“You can’t deliver big parcels via social media. It needs human service, and that is provided by the post office. Some important government documents are also sent through post. All central government ministries send their job letters via daak and not social media. I also got my job letter through daak. So, the post office has an important role to play in delivering things that impact lives. In areas such as these, there is no substitute for daak. Even today, when postmen pass by in the village streets, people eagerly ask them about their daak.”

Chauhan, the ex-airman who has become a postman, stresses on the importance of being alert and accurate.

“This is a very responsible job. A postman should be very loyal to his job. For example, anyone’s job letter can come at any time. Even my job letter from the Indian Air Force in 1990 was lost by a postman. Then I filed a case in the court. I won after fighting the case for five years and eventually joined my job,” he recalled.

Rana felt that despite technology, post offices will remain important.

“Technology can’t replace this completely because our reach is in all rural villages, many of which are lagging in technology. The postman goes to various areas to deliver pension to senior citizens as well as birth and death certificates among other things. Even during the Covid pandemic, when many services came to a halt, we continued to operate and provide services,” he added.