INDIA POST IS SET to unveil “Amrit packs” in the coming weeks, a philately collection that will be available digitally and is intended to rekindle an interest in postage stamps in the younger generation at a time when most communication is online through emails or messaging apps. Through a modest beginning, the Department of Post is looking to introduce themes related to India’s cultural heritage, natural bounties, major events that shaped the nation and stories of lesser-known figures, often referred to as “unsung heroes”, from the era of the freedom struggle and other passages of Indian history. The daunting effort hopes to introduce philately to a much larger audience apart from dedicated collectors of stamps and first-day covers who number in lakhs, though they are also part of a large global network of philately aficionados.
The innovative packs will be part of a philatelic exhibition, being organised after a gap of 10 years, which will be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi early next month, and where other initiatives to connect to citizens and provide last-mile services will be showcased. Having more than earned its stripes during the height of the Covid pandemic when postal services stayed on the job delivering essentials like personal protection equipment (PPE) kits and medicines, besides regular mail, India Post has gained new relevance with the success of its tech-enabled products. The Indian Post Payments Bank, launched in 2018, has successfully covered its operational costs in a short period of four years. A savings account can be opened at a bank access point or at the doorstep through Aadhaar-enabled identification. Once an account is opened, everything is online and digitally operational. The bank has developed a network of business partners and expanded its products to include insurance, credit, and a wallet. The vast network of postal employees, particularly in remote and rural areas, delivers a unique advantage to account holders. A “postman” can be located at almost any hour and money is withdrawn from any bank when cash is needed, whether for a planned or an emergent expense. At smaller locations, the postal employee is known to just about everyone.
There is a revival in the fortunes of India Post after a long and sluggish phase that began with the proliferation of private couriers and the advance of online communication. The image of the diligent postman, immortalised by Bollywood and stars like Rajesh Khanna (Palkon Ki Chhaon Mein, 1977) as a harbinger of news and mail from a loved one, faded in the face of modernity. The romance of the envelope and postcard may be a matter of nostalgia and stamp sales are hardly a revenue spinner. Yet, the same advance of technology that seemed to imperil the postal system, along with the resilience shown by India Post during the pandemic, has offered new beginnings that touch the lives of millions. “India Post is a crucial part of the last-mile connect as part of the government’s emphasis on ensuring saturation coverage of beneficiaries,” says an official. The resultant upswing in employee morale and an expansion in the postal network has brought about a reinvention of India Post. Post offices in many cities and towns are large and the electronic tracking and account management system make it much easier for customers to access deliveries and savings. The need to maintain crumbly paper passbooks has declined and with the introduction of online purchase of savings instruments like the National Savings Certificate, a longstanding demand has been met. The upswing that began soon after the Modi government’s enthusiastic adoption of Aadhaar-enabled services, with an uptick in revenues from banking and savings besides newer e-commerce and other value-added services, became evident by 2017-18 and has further accelerated. This meant that the department could offer raises to its hardworking force of Gramin Dak Sevaks (GDS). The example of the payments bank shows that the adoption of digital technology can dramatically reduce costs and losses and increase revenues, something the department needs to bear in mind as it seeks to boost earnings from the expanding e-commerce market.
In past years, post offices have become a major centre for Aadhaar updates as well as the issuance of passports through post office Passport Seva Kendras. Some 300-odd post offices also provide facilities for railway bookings in areas that are far from railway centres or where digital penetration is low
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India Post is also looking to ride the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) wave, with both the Centre and states adopting digital gateways to deliver benefits for more than 1,000 schemes. Using the Unified Payments Interface (UPI) system, India Post also offers instant fund transfers and is encouraging customers to link their accounts to receive benefits of welfare schemes. Looking to impart a truly new look to its portfolio, the department plans to connect rural producers of millet with export markets. India Post’s network will facilitate interaction between smaller farmers and export houses, providing physical and digital infrastructure. The payments network will smoothen commerce further. “This way, we will bring in farmers who find it difficult to find exporters or are dependent on middlemen to find reliable exporters. The same works for exporters, with India Post, adding to the credibility of the process,” says the official. The plan to leverage digital transactions and the physical presence of the department in remoter areas could significantly boost Modi’s call for popularising millet and increase earnings in rural India. With close to double-digit growth in millet exports, the Centre’s agriculture export promotion body, the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), is aiming for `1,200 crore of exports by 2025. India is one of the leading producers of millet in the world with an estimated share of around 41 per cent in global production. “As per FAO (Food and Agriculture Organization), world production of millets in the year 2020 was 30.464 million metric tonnes (MMT) and India’s share was 12.49 MMT, which accounts for 41 per cent of the total millet production. India recorded 27 per cent growth in millet production in 2021-22 as compared to millet production in the previous year, which was 15.92 MMT,” according to a recent government statement.
THERE IS A thread that links many of India Post’s plans apart from the determination to use it as an effective governance tool. The philately initiative and the ambitious millet export plan reflect the “Atmanirbhar” thinking in the government. Modi has been emphatic in promoting an indigenous focus on history and culture to correct official accounts and the legacy of an education system that he argues neglected the role of local heroes and cultures. In the case of millet, the advancement of coarse grains is a bid to highlight healthy alternatives to cereals and also push “homegrown” solutions. The cultural aspect, which underpins the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) political vision, is a theme that runs through many of the government’s initiatives with the prime minister accusing political rivals and ideological opponents of suppressing and de-emphasising native rebellions against invasions. The faultline is typified by a clash of views with BJP’s critics often seeing regional and sub-regional identities as “sub-nationalities” and the saffron party and the Sangh recognising them to be distinct, but locating such individuals and communities within a national narrative.
In past years, post offices have become a major centre for Aadhaar updates as well as the issuance of passports through Post Office Passport Seva Kendras. Some 300-odd post offices also provide facilities for railway bookings in areas that are far from railway centres or where digital penetration is low. The India Post network has been an active participant in the government’s bid to popularise yoga and specific initiatives like “Har Ghar Tiranga” announced by the prime minister ahead of last year’s Independence Day. With the call to fly the national flag receiving an enthusiastic response, the postal system delivered lakhs of flags. On the International Day of Yoga, the department organised camps and participation of volunteers and employees at dozens of places of historical and cultural interest. India Post took pride in delivering the national flag to remote locations in hilly areas like Ladakh and Dharamshala, fields of eastern India and the Army memorial at Moirang in Manipur. The yoga exercises were organised at locations as far apart as the Vivekananda Rock Memorial at Kanyakumari and boats on the Dal Lake in Srinagar. The events were not just symbolic. They demonstrated India Post’s presence across the nation and its preparedness and conviction to leverage it in new ways.
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