history of the indian post office

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

No other institution ever has come closer to human lives as the Post Office. Post office reaches every nook and corner of the country. This is one of the reasons why many of the Government, non-government organizations, when faced with difficulties of reaching the largest possible number of people, have thought of utilizing the agency of the Post Office for the purpose.

The Indian Post Office was recognized as a separate organization of national importance and was placed, for the first time, under the unitary control of a Director General of the Post Office in India on October 01, 1854. It thus completes 150 years of its operations this year.

The Indian Postal System is not carved out of a single rock. The postal systems of more than 650 princely States, the district postal systems and Zamindari Dak were merged with the main British postal system. The bonding of the fragments has been so fine that one could be tempted to think that the institution is monolithic.

Lord Clive first established the postal system in the country in 1766. Later on Warren Hastings developed the system by establishing Calcutta Grand Post Office (GPO) under a Postmaster General in 1774. In other Presidencies of Madras and Bombay, it came into existence in 1786 and 1793. The Act of 1837 first regulated the Post Office on a uniform basis to unite the organization throughout the three Presidencies into one all India Service. The Post Office Act of 1854, however, reformed the entire fabric of the postal system with placing the Post Office of India on the present administrative footings on October 01, 1854.

In 1854, both the Posts and Telegraph departments were born. From the beginning, the set up was run on welfare lines. Profit was not the motto. In the second half of the 19th century the Government declared that so long as the Department payed its own expenses, nothing more was desired. The same trend continued even in the 20th century. The operations of post office and telegraph developed side by side. On the eve of the World War I, in 1914, both the departments were amalgamated.


Integration of Services

The financial and political integration of the Indian States made it necessary and inevitable that the Government of India should pursue the policy of integration of the postal system of the Indian States with the larger postal system. There were States, which maintained district and independent postal organization with local postage stamps of their own. The letterboxes of these states were painted in green colour to distinguish them from the Indian Post Office letterboxes, which were painted red.

In 1908, it was found that out of the 652 native states in India, 635 States had cast their lot with the Indian Post Office. Only 15 States remained out; the outstanding ones being Hyderabad, Gwalior, Jaipur and Travnacore.

A major reorganization of the Posts and Telegraph (P&T) Department took place in 1925. The accounts of the P & T were reconstituted to examine the fiscal profile of the Department. The attempt was to find out the extent to which it was imposing a burden on the tax payers or bringing in revenue to the Exchequer, how far each of the four constituent branches of the department, the Postal, Telegraph, Telephone and Wireless were contributing towards the result.


Multifarious Activities

Indian Postal service has not only confined to its main task of delivering letters and being an effective mode of communication. It might appear surprising but the Post office was maintaining the dak (post) bunglows and sarais in those early days. For well over three decades from 1830s, the Post Office also facilitated road journey of the passengers. A traveller could book his seat in any palki, boat, horse, coach and cart carrying mails and parcels on payment to the post office a fixed amount in advance and take rest on wayside dak chowkee, later on known as dak bungalow.

During the plague epidemic in the late 19th century, the Post Office was assigned the task of selling quinine packets. It is a country of joint families and small incomes where millions of rupees have to be sent in the shape of small sums. The money transactions were carried out through the agency of the 321 Government treasuries, located in district headquarters. In 1880, the extensive agency at the command of the 5090 Post Offices was handed over the transfer of small sums by way of Money Order, thereby obviating the difficulties of travelling to the district headquarters and identification of the payee.

In 1884, Postal Life Insurance was born, to insure the lives of ‘native’ postal employees other than those in high positions since the insurance companies operating in India were unwilling to insure common natives.


Freedom Struggle

When the nation went through turbulent times, the post office also suffered. It witnessed arson and loot after 1857. A Deputy Postmaster and an overseer were killed, a runner wounded and a number of Post Offices in Bihar, UP, North West Frontier Provinces (NWFP) were looted. In the NWFP and Oudh practically all communication lines were closed and quite a number of post offices could not be reopened for a whole year even after the violence had subsided.

Postal strikes of 1920, which lasted for about five months, caused complete dislocation of the postal services. In the 1942 Quit India movement, a number of Post Offices and letterboxes were set on fire and mails could only be exchanged with great difficulty. It led to dislocation of postal lines in many sectors.


Milestones

Over the years evolution of mail delivery has grown from foot to Speed-post and e-post. Post Card was introduced in 1879 while Value Payable Parcel (VPP), Parcel and Insurance were brought into being in 1877. Indian Postal Order had its origin in 1930. For faster delivery, Postal Index Number (PIN) Code was introduced in 1972. In view of fast emerging changes and scenario Postal and Telecom Departments were segregated in 1985. Speed-Post was launched in 1986 while keeping pace with the changing needs of the times, Metro/Rajdhani/Business Channels, EPS and Money Order via VSAT were introduced in 1994.


Postal Runner

The postal runner finds a prominent place in the folklore in every traditional society. In India one comes across stories and poems on it in almost every regional languages.

Earlier there was provision of providing a drummer to each runner while passing through forest tracts. In dangerous tracts an escort of two torchbearers and two archers were also supplied after nightfall. There were numerous instances of runners being carried away by tigers, drowned in flooded rivers, bitten by venomous snakes, buried in avalanches or murdered by robbers. The Director of Public Information, Government of India, informed the Parliament in 1923 that during the year 1921-22, there were 57 cases in which the mails were plundered by highway robbers as compared with 36 in the preceding year. Seven out of 457 cases were attended with loss of life and in 13 instances the mail carriers were wounded.


Integrating Factor

The post office has helped bind the nation together, support the growth of commerce and ensure a free flow of ideas and information. The evolution of mail delivery grew from foot to horseback, stagecoach, railroad, automobile and airplane. The character, volume and transportation of mail have changed over the years. Today, emphasis is on postal mechanisation and automation, which have been undertaken to improve productivity and quality and provide access to quality postal services.

Postal services have social and economic functions that clearly go beyond a simple business rationale. This is especially true in the developing world. A reliable postal system is a critical component of the modern information and distribution infrastructure and an important catalyst for social and economic development and poverty reduction.