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Posts : Beyond Holding Operations


Public assets are not created in a day, but they can be destroyed by consistent neglect in a fraction of the time it has taken to create them. The story of the postal department, like so many public services whose origins date back over a century in time, is another example of unpremeditated neglect. It is as if the governments in Delhi over the decades have expected it to function entirely on its own, to fashion itself to changing needs, to cut costs, stretch resources and do whatever is necessary with little or no encouragement in cash or kind from the central authority. Chapters in plan documents have of course been devoted to it routinely, just as departmental annual reports have been duly compiled; plans and projections have been formulated. If there has been creative thinking on the postal services it has been reduced to small attempts at extending some services, introducing with unwarranted caution small new services whose potential has never been realised for want of marketing and showcasing. But there appears to be an incredible complaisance about how the postal department is going to relocate itself in a rapidly changing communications milieu.

So when postal workers go on strike, it would be expected that some part of the issues raised would have to do with revitalisation of the department as an adjunct to betterment of employee status and emoluments. There appears to be even less appreciation of how closely the two are connected among the trade unions than there is among the bureaucrats and ministers who have headed the department. The employees’ demands, a carry-over of their earlier threat to strike some months ago when the minister had promised to look into the demands, are in the main for the regularisation of the over three lakh employees who handle low value mail, but providing an essential and often only communication link. These are the part-time postal employees in the rural areas, a category which originated in colonial times when there did not appear to be sufficient work in those parts for a full-time employee. School teachers and others employed elsewhere but with time to spare were initially recruited as part-time postal staff. Over time, however, their work load has increased and so have their earnings and benefits. According to some reports, now about the only benefit they do not get on par with full-time employees is retirement options. The three employees’ unions that have called the strike, the National Federation of Postal Employees, the Federation of National Postal Organisations and Bharatiya Postal Employees Federation, have been demanding that the recommendations of the Justice Charanjit Talwar Committee on regularisation of these employees be implemented. The postal department, working under a severe financial constraint, has no wherewithal to do this. And hence the impasse.

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