Re-inventing the Post Office
With the phasing out of the traditiol money order in April this year and the telegram services two years earlier, post offices across the country were due for a makeover. The friendly, trusty postman bearing happy or sad tidings to towns and villages across India had to re-invent himself in a newer, smarter but no less friendly avatar. This has become inevitable with mobile phones becoming ubiquitous and internet-based communication expanding to the villages. By next month, the 155,000 post offices across the country are slated to begin providing core banking and pension services, housing ATMs in their compounds. The Reserve Bank is expected to grant payment license to the proposed Post Bank of India anytime soon, an initiative the Central government hopes will make possible effective fincial inclusion of rural India. This is vital for the success of the Prime Minister’s Jan Dhan scheme of bank accounts for all, as well as the Atal pension scheme and life and accident insurance schemes. Whether all banks go to the villages or not, much has been invested in post offices in more than 160 years by successive Indian governments and the colonial British administration. It therefore makes eminent sense to remodel village post offices as common service centres (CSCs), the hub of a range of fincial services and e-services. Already more than 2,500 post offices are using the core banking platform to transmit money instantaneously across the country through newer money order services like eMO and iMO, while at least a hundred post offices have installed ATMs.
Rather than becoming redundant in a networked age, the Department of Posts as part of the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, is positioning itself as a nodal agency to bring about ‘Digital India’. The overarching vision of this ambitious scheme is to connect all rural areas with high-speed internet network, provide e-governce and bring about complete digital literacy by 2019. The country’s mobile phone subscriber base is set to cross 100 crore this year, which will be more than 80 percent of its population. The number of internet connections are expected to rise from 30 crores presently to 50 crore in two years. The Central government is expecting that once networked, IT-ebled post offices begin banking services, subsequently they will serve as delivery points for government, social and private sector services relating to e-education, e-health, agriculture, public utilities and e-commerce. Some states have already begun to train their postmen in operating electronic, hand-held devices to offer such services to rural customers at their doorstep. Post offices are also gearing up to work with various online retailers, by helping deliver their goods booked electronically by customers in remote villages. This is expected to become an everyday reality after more than 2.5 lakh gram panchayats across the country are linked by tiol optical fibre network. The Northeast region presently has 2,920 post offices serving many widely scattered, remote villages. There is much scope to bring digital India services to this region by increasing the number of rural post offices.