No knocking doors: In lockdown, India Post calls to say you've got mail

Topics India Post | postcard | Coronavirus

Changing with the times and in compliance with social distancing norms, customers are now picking up their parcels, and speed posts themselves
At this time of the year, post offices are noisy with agents hard-selling a range of tax-saving schemes to the last-minute investors. The week gone by was different. On Friday afternoon, at the ITO Post Office across the normally buzzing Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg, a masked guard curtly said the timing had been changed to 10 am to 1 pm. In the pre-Covid days, it operated till 8 in the evening.

Surely the postmen, the lifeline of the country till Internet and mobile phones overtook the snail mail, were still around picking up and delivering letters and parcels? All 66 postmen attached with this post office had been given paid leave, a solitary official working beyond the opening hours pointed out, while ushering in inside the building through a back door, where parcels were piled up waiting to be delivered ever since the three-week lockdown was announced on March 24.  

Changing with the times and in compliance with social distancing norms, customers are now picking up their parcels, speed posts and registered letters within the city themselves after they are informed on phone. In most urban areas, door delivery by postmen has been replaced by window collection at post office branches. “The decision was taken after many people refused to take parcels being delivered by postmen in the fear of catching infection from an outsider,” another official said.  

India Post, part of the essential service list issued by the government, is operational but only partially. The traffic is down considerably. A senior official at Dak Bhawan, the headquarters of Department of Posts (DoP) in New Delhi, estimated at least a 40 per cent reduction in footfall across the country as the virus-linked clampdown came into effect.

The substantially low traffic in parcel booking as well as in financial transactions is being handled by a fraction of the mammoth workforce that India Post has. Of the 450,000 employees that the organisation has, only 201,881 are attending office now, according to a source in the DoP. This includes 147,000 gramin dak sewak — all in rural areas.

In fact, the India Post employees in rural areas, hardly infected by coronavirus, are working in full strength, he said. Local authorities have clamped down in some states, Punjab being one, where even curfew passes are not enough to continue with the essential services, according to the official.

The focus of the department is now on transporting essential goods including medicines, food items, masks and even clothes. Cargo planes are at work and so are other flights organised by Air India’s subsidiary Air Alliance and Indian Air Force to ferry medicines and food to several locations, the source quoted above said. One such flight would take off from New Delhi on Monday to deliver essential items to Port Blair. A similar medical consignment was delivered from Chennai to a hospital in Pune last week. Most of the state capitals are being served through this route, based on the civil aviation ministry’s schedule.

Delivery of non-essential items — primarily letters and speed posts — however, is only within cities. The number of speed post and registered letters has crashed, but not vanished. On March 27 (Friday), the third day of the lockdown, some 600,000 speed post and registered letters were booked across India. Money orders are being sent as well, though the amount of transaction is down. There were 6,000 money orders sent on March 28 (Saturday) and a total sum of Rs 50 lakh delivered.

During the stressed times, India Post has begun using its mobile vans, which are more like post offices on the move, extensively. From financial transactions to booking parcels, the in-house fleet, used earlier for marketing purposes during insurance melas etc, is active in many states including Andhra Pradesh, Kerala, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and West Bengal. According to an official dealing with the financial services, the transactions were down by about 30 per cent a few days ago but were now picking up after assurance from the Prime Minister.

But the fear of lockdown and the virus is far from gone. At the capital’s Gol Dak Khana office, one of the biggest in the country, there are two levels of sanitisation before you can enter the building. First with soap and water on the roadside and then with sanitiser inside the main gate. Out of a total strength of 280 employees in this office, only 45 were at work on Saturday. Most of the regular work has been suspended and the backlog will take some time to clear, a source pointed out.

The guard at the Gol Dak Khana office continues with his eight-hour drill, while managing his own tea and coffee from time to time. A few miles away at the Foreign Post Office, only a guard has been around for about a week as all international flights remain grounded and employees are home.


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