The postal history of India is strongly related to its intricate political history. Portuguese, Dutch, French, Danish, and British colonialists coexisted with their postal systems among other systems and rules as they rose to power in India. Read here to learn the postal history of India.
Department of Posts has transformed itself with the passage of time and the demands of the public.
Technology induction and the addition of new services have made India Post a modern and multiple service provider.
Today, it provides banking, insurance, and the last-mile delivery of benefits of several welfare schemes run by the Government to every village through its network of 1.59 lakh Post Offices.
The history of postal service in India dates back to ancient times before a special department was set up for postal services by the British.
Postal History of India
Before the British, there has been mention of messenger services used by kings to pass messages.
- 1296: Horse and foot postal system during the rule of Allauddin Khilji.
- 1341: Ibn Battuta describes El Wolak (Horse carriers) and El Davah, (foot runners) during the Tughluks.
- 1541: Sher Shah introduces horse dak on the 2000-mile stretch of road between Bengal and Sind.
- 1672: Mysore Anche is established by Maharaja Chikka Devaraya Wodeyar.
The existence of an early postal system in India can be found during the reign of Emperor Chandragupta Maurya.
- He divided his empire into provinces. The difficulty of communication between the capital city and the provincial capitals was solved by the use of pigeon posts.
- The pigeon post system continued even during the time of Emperor Ashoka. The letters in little cachets were tied to the feet of trained pigeons which were made to fly to specific destinations and thus important messages were sent.
Babur developed the runner services along the road from Agra up to Kabul. For exchanging communication, on the Agra-Kabul Road, six horses were stationed every 36 miles.
Shershah Suri reorganized and further developed the communication system. He built the Grant Trunk Road and rest houses called Sarais on the roadside.
- In each rest house, horses were kept ready for the conveyance of news. It is said that he kept 3400 horses with riders exclusively for the despatch of news. The total length of the Grand Trunk Road is 2500 kilometers.
Postal system during the British era
The eighteenth century saw the beginning of British engagement in India’s postal system. In the beginning, the East India Company was in charge of running the service, and between 1764 and 1766, it opened post offices in Mumbai, Chennai, and Calcutta (now Kolkata).
1727: The East India Company started opening its first post office.
1766: Robert Clive sets up a regular postal system.
1774: Warren Hastings (Governor General of British India from 1773-1784) opened the posts to the public and Calcutta General Post Office (GPO) was established.
- Before this, the East India Company’s economic interests had been the primary focus of the postal system.
- The evolution of the postal service was still driven by meeting the political and economic demands of the in charge.
1786: Madras GPO opened
1794: Bombay GPO opened
1837: The Post Office Act reserved the government the exclusive right to convey letters in the territories of the East India Company.
1850: A report was commissioned into the working of the Post Office in India by Dalhousie. He recognized the Indian Post Offices as separate organizations of national importance.
- Previously, prices were based on weight and distance, but this study imposed standard postal rates based only on weight.
- It suggested giving postmasters a manual of instructions to promote consistency in practice.
- Act XVII was first introduced in 1854 as a result of the suggestions made in this study. The changes, however, had a mixed record of effectiveness, with some regions continuing to use outdated procedures.
The East India Company started losing political influence in the late eighteenth century. In 1858, the Company was eventually disbanded, and India was then placed under the direct control of Parliament as a Crown territory.
1852: The first adhesive postal stamp in India, Scinde Dawk was introduced by Sir Bartle Frere, the East India Company’s administrator of the province of Sind.
- The First India-wide postage stamps were created in 1854 as a result of the implementation of uniform postage rates.
- Similar to when uniform postage was implemented in Britain, this resulted in a sharp rise in postal service usage.
1873: Government Savings Bank Act, 1873 passed by the legislature.
1876: India joined the Universal Postal Union.
1879: Postcards were introduced and Railway Mail Service /Money order was launched.
1882: The first Post office savings bank was opened and by 1884 Post life Insurance was launched.
1885: The Indian Telegraph Act, of 1885 was enacted.
1898: Post Office Act VI was introduced and Imperial Penny Postage was introduced.
The world’s first official airmail flight took place in India on 18 February 1911.
1931: The first pictorial stamps were issued and there was a victory issue in 1946, followed shortly by the first Dominion issue.
- The three stamps in the Dominion issue depicted the Ashoka Pillar, the new flag of India, and an airplane.
- The Indian Wireless Telegraphy Act, of 1933 was enacted.
- Indian Postal Order was introduced in 1935.
Postal history after independence
Following independence, the new Indian Government assumed control of the postal system. However, Britain continued to oversee postal services to India in the same manner that it did for other nations.
- The worsening ties between India and Pakistan in the 1960s had significant effects on sending and receiving mail to and from these nations.
In 1947, three Independence Postage Stamps were issued.
The Postal Index Number (PIN, or sometimes redundantly PIN code) is a six-digit postal code.
- The PIN system was made by Shriram Bhikaji Velankar when he was at service in Kolkata.
- It was introduced on 15 August 1972 by former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi.
The PIN system is organized in the following way:
- The first digit indicates the zone.
- The first two digits indicate the sub-zone (or postal circle).
- The first three digits indicate a sorting district.
- The first four digits indicate a service route.
- The last two digits indicate the delivery post office.
The first speed post was introduced in 1986.
In 2003, the Meghdoot software was introduced and in 2006 e-Payment services were launched in Post offices.
In April 2008, Project Arrow was launched for the modernization of post offices.
- The goal of the project is to modernize post offices in urban and rural locations, transforming them into dynamic, responsive organizations with improved service and aesthetics.
- The project’s objectives include delivering secure IT services, enhancing mail delivery, remittances (both electronic and physical), and postal-savings strategies while fostering an efficient and welcoming workplace for both employees and clients.
The India Post is a part of the Department of Post under the Ministry of Communications.
For more than 150 years, the Department of Posts (DoP) has been the backbone of the country’s communication and has played a crucial role in the country’s social and economic development. As seen through the postal history of India, the department underwent numerous changes with time to reach where it is today.
It is a crucial part of Indian citizens as it functions in delivering mail, accepting deposits under Small Savings Schemes, providing life insurance coverage under Postal Life Insurance (PLI) and Rural Postal Life Insurance (RPLI), and providing retail services like bill collection, sale of forms, etc.
The DoP also acts as an agent for the Government of India in discharging other services for citizens such as Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) wage disbursement and old age pension payments.
With more than 1,55,000 post offices, the DoP has the most widely distributed postal network in the world.
-Article written by Swathi Satish
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