From Delivering Mail to Selling Apps: How India’s Postmen Have Changed

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As emails replace mails, India Post is evolving. From e-commerce to selling mobile apps, the world's largest post office is changing.

For 162 years now, India’s postmen have connected towns, villages, families and friends across the subcontinent. The times have changed, and the postmen have changed with it. From travelling on horseback to riding bicycles, to driving motorcycles and vans – the Indian postman has always adapted to the technology of the times.

Today, in the email era, the age of post has declined. The volume of mail sent has more than halved since 2000, according to data from the Ministry of Statistics.

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But India Post, with the world’s largest network of post offices, is losing no steps in making the digital shift. Over the years, the number of package deliveries, financial transactions and digital services rendered by it have gone up dramatically.

Postmen will soon be equipped with smartphones, and will sell apps alongside delivering the mail.

“This is the first soft product our people will have to market. It is an android app, and postmen will do the marketing,” says P.V.S. Reddy, Postmaster General of Hyderabad Region. The proposal for India Post to market the app came three months ago – and was approved by the Chief Post Master General (CPMG) of Telangana, for rollout in two circles.

The app, developed by a private company, will give India Post 25% of the revenues made from the subscriptions, according to Anant Ram, an Inspector with Postal Department’s complaint division, who helped with the marketing from India Post’s side. Postmen will be incentivized to make sales – adding yet another role to their fast-evolving skill set.

Jagdish, 26, is a dose of new blood in the Indian Post – having joined just a year and a half ago. With a Bachelors In Computer Science, he’s been tasked with selling the app, door to door and business by business. “Actually, we’re not from marketing…we’re not MBA students. We have some targets… so we try to do our best,” he says.

There’s another app up his sleeve – the Postman app, developed by India Post to help employees instantly document their deliveries.

Postman, banker, e-commerce, public servant and teacher. These are just some of the pies that the now app-savvy India Post have their fingers in today. Since the last 15 years, the Department of Post has been set revenue targets for each year – compelling them to innovate.

They’ve set up financial services that have become key platforms for banking the poor, such as the Electronic Money Order services (deposit money online from anywhere in the world, one branch, and the recipient can collect it at any post office in India), savings accounts for senior citizens (with some of the industry’s highest interest rates, and soon, a payments bank (which will allow more people to set up simple bank accounts).

For pensioners collecting money at their post offices, a biometric verification system has been put in place. “Aadhar confirms identity of the pensioner, as recorded in biometric details. The transaction is passed. What happens when you go to a bank and give a cheque, the teller will check with the signatuere. Here, it is the biometric [data], as recorded in the aadhar,” says P.V.S. Reddy.

They have also tied up with e-commerce websites to help with deliveries – profits from which have increased by a factor of ten since 2013.

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Postman Ramesh B. Singh remembers a time when all he did was deliver mail. “I started as a postman in 1979. There was a lot of work back then. Not as many facilities, no phone, only STD was there.”

While he says the number of mails he delivers each day has dropped from nearly a 1000 in the 80s to around 150-200 today, the job continues to give him a sense of importance.

If I have to deliver a summons from the High Court and the person is not at home, I write that he is not there on the letter. My remark on the letter, will be accepted by even the Chief Justice.

he says. He shows us a mail he is carrying – one with a stamp from the office of the President of India.

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The government has made the Post office a key component of some of its largest schemes. From the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) to the New Pension Scheme (NPS) of 2010 – India Post has been the most effective place for pensioners and labourers under these schemes to collect their earnings.

Since demonetization, the department of posts has helped hundreds of thousands deposit up to Rs. 32621 crore ($4.75 billion) in the two weeks since 500 and 1000 rupee notes were withdrawn.

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With modernization on their minds, even their uniforms could change from the iconic khaki, to something more colourful – complete with baseball caps. There have been many changes for India Post, though as Ramesh reminds us, postmen in villages continue to walk 15-20 kilometres by foot on their beats.

The timeless postman of R.K. Narayan’s epic ‘Malgudi Days’, walking from house to house building relationships with people, is not going anywhere anytime soon. The modern postman has your e-commerce delivery, a biometric scanner, and an app in pocket.

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