“The Usage of Internet in Kashmir is less than 4%. What About Others who don’t Have Access to Web?”

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General Postmaster, John Samuel, is a chartered accountant who has, before coming to J&K in 2011, served in Kerala, Bhutan Maldives and Bangkok. Saima Bhat talks to him about the prospects of manual posts in a digitized world and his future plan for postal services in the valley.

CHIEF POST OFFICER John Samuel

CHIEF POST OFFICER John Samuel

KL: General Post Office is going to invest Rs 30 crore in expanding its outreach. What prompted you to invest in postal services in Kashmir after such a long time?

JS: A local once complained that for the last 20 years not even single furniture has been changed in Jawahar Nagar post office. I think it is time for us to restore the past glory of GPO. We have almost 1700 post offices in J&K and many initiatives need to be taken which include buildings, modernization of existing post offices and computerization. There are many capable people who need a little bit of triggering.

So I started from computerization of post offices. We are going to have ATM’s soon. We have tied up with universities of J&K to motivate our staff who will be given desktops and laptops too to work from their homes. In the next two years, people will see J&K postal services taking a different approach where post office will be like a bank in terms of its looks.

KL: In this digital world, what is the relevance of postal department in Kashmir? And what is your work presently?

JS: Internet is only one part of communication in life. Many people wrongly think that many people use internet. The entire usage of internet in Kashmir is less than 4 percent, what about others who don’t have access? Post office is a congregation of many activities. It is parcels, speed posts, money orders, savings bank, payment of electricity bills, railway bookings. For the last two years, parcel services have increased by more than 200 percent. What does internet do now?

Internet can tell you where your parcel is but somebody has to really deliver it. And in case of Kashmir, it is more difficult as far as transport and roads are concerned. Postal services play a vital role in providing banking services, insurance, distribution, courier service, and a range of other retail services.

In Kashmir, postal services can play a role in commercial development as well. Kashmir is known for many products like world famous saffron, apples, almonds and walnuts. If someone wants to buy these products, we have started schemes wherein they can contact us and we will make sure they get best quality products through government authorized dealers and at best possible rates.

KL: You have been quoted saying that there were some black sheep in post offices across J&K who do not undertake their jobs honestly. Can you elaborate?

JS: There are some postmen who were not working properly as needed. They don’t deliver parcels at the homes of customers. Instead they deliver it at shops which affect postal services. They don’t put their uniforms. They were doing it deliberately. We needed to identify them and monitor their activities. Operationally, we should improve. ‘Chalta hai’ attitude can’t work. It is my duty to take these men to task when they don’t work properly. If posts are not delivered on time, what is the fun? I won’t say everything is going well. There are areas where we need to improve the performance.

KL: There are complaints that the posts delivered by your office are tampered. You had said you were going for tampering-proof packaging. To what extend this tampering was happening and why was it happening?

JS: Last year I came across four cases of tampering. But now, we have made the system of security parcel packaging. We have tightened our security and the rate has come down. Things have gone wrong. We are trying to study where things went wrong so that it doesn’t happen in future. That is why we have installed CCTV’s. If there is proper supervision, then no such incident will happen. We will be taking help of police and CBI so that tampering is tracked and the chances of pilferage are less.

KL: Has ‘Gift post’ and ‘Expressions’ schemes launched in Kashmir help you in increasing the customer base? Who is your target audience?

JS: Kashmir is known for a large number of products like handicrafts, shawls, saffron and all these things can be sent as gift items. What post office does is one can visit our offices where they can buy or send them as a gift within or outside India. Post office is a facilitator for you to send your gifts.

‘Expressions’ is for birthdays, anniversaries, etc. It enables people to express their feelings better even if they cannot go and visit their loved ones by sending them flowers, cakes, chocolates. But ‘Expressions’ is limited within Srinagar only. I remember once a 70-year-old man received a bouquet of flowers on his birthday through our service, otherwise one won’t expect such a gift at that age.

KL: What was the need of starting ‘Night post office service’?

JS: Almost every state headquarters has got a night post services. Unfortunately it didn’t exist in Kashmir. I don’t want to get into history why it was not given. But I talked to higher authorities that Kashmir should also get the equal status like any other state. And now people are appreciating it.

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