Shumona Sharmin Sharna
It was not so long ago when people were used to seeing men carrying a bag full of letters and riding a bicycle or running to deliver handwritten letters across the country.
They were familiar by the name of runner or postman. These postmen knew all the addresses and residents and if anyone wanted to find out anything about anyone he would be the right person to go to. Who else would know better than a postman?
Such a scene is rare now. Westernization has touched Bangladesh as well. People barely write letters; they rely on emails and courier services instead. Mobile phones are so handy that by pressing a few numbers, people can talk to relatives living miles away. Social networking sites have removed distance and by visiting these sites people get to know about each other easily. And now the recent launching of 3G technology, people can even see each other while talking.
People stopped writing letters to their near and dear ones. They have turned their backs to both the mailbox and the post office.
Where are all the runners who used to roam around the country carrying loads of letters? What happened to the heritage of post offices?
The number of postmen in Bangladesh Post Office is reducing as people don't go to nearby post boxes or post offices to post letters. The uncared for post boxes can be seen in a shabby condition.
Though Bangladesh is moving forward aiming towards a "Digital Bangladesh" milestone, Bangladesh post office is yet to be digitized.
While talking with some senior post masters in Bangladesh Post Office (GPO), Ramna, they mentioned that people do not write personal letters too often these days. Even if they write, they avail the courier delivery services and for this reason the number of postmen has decreased.
However, they added that, due to a growing number of businesses and commercial institutes the runners are not sitting completely idle as they are as busy as before delivering business letters to distant parts of the country.
Director of Mails of Bangladesh Post office, Abdullah Al Mahbubur Rashid talked to the Observer that the volume of mails didn't reduce. Though the number of posted personal letters reduced due to advanced services provided by private courier services, the volume of business/commercial mail increased a lot. Increasing commercial institutes and growing business organizations increased the volume of commercial mail, he said.
However, many people go to the private courier services as they provide better facilities rather than the government postal office. Abdullah Al Mahbubur Rashid said that Bangladesh Post Office was a monopoly player in the postal field of the country once which provided low cost services mainly to the low income people. But recently private courier services have joined the competition. As they have better transportation and digitized system Bangladesh Post Office is having a hard time holding on to their private customers.
But commercial customers have increased a lot, he added.
He also said that delivering letters to remote areas of Bangladesh sometimes requires transportation more than messengers. But managing transport costs a huge amount of money which is not even profitable for the market. As the private courier companies have a good financial backup, providing vehicle is easy for them. Therefore, they are diverting a great number of general customers from government post office.
However, Bangladesh Post office is using transportation beside messengers; transportation includes train, bus, and water vehicle even plane.
Director of mails also said that, they are trying to digitize the postal service as well so that they can get back most of their clients.
Sources from Bangladesh Post office revealed that they are planning to digitize the postal services in the country. Already they have achieved some milestones such as Post E-Center at each of the rural post offices of the country, Electronic Money Transfer Service (EMTS), Automation of Postal Department, Postal Cash Card, and Special SIM Card.
E-Center project aims at bridging digital divide between the rural and urban people of the country by enabling them to have access to modern ICT based technologies including the postal facilities. The Honourable Prime Minister has reiterated the intention of the government to the effect that "each of 8,500 rural post offices of the country will be converted into Post E-Center."
Electronic Money Transfer Service (EMTS) is commonly known as Mobile Money Order Service. This project fulfilled the expectations of people to remit the desired amount of money to their near and dear ones. This is a mobile as well as web based remittance service available in all important post offices of the country. The sender can send the money within a minute and recipient/beneficiary can collect it instantly. Both sender and recipient get confirmation of the remittance and disbursement as soon as it is made in their mobile phones.
This service is available in all important post offices of the country. Presently 2,750 post offices provide the EMTS which is covering all districts, upazilla/thana and important/busy rural post office locations. Every month hundreds of post officials are being trained and the service is expanded to those locations.
Project "Process Automation of Postal Department" primarily aims at automating the activities of 134 offices including 71 Head Post Offices and 13 Main and Sorting Offices through computer hardware and an integrated web based application software.
Postal Cash Card, which has already been inaugurated by the Honourable Prime Minister, is now in operation in 31 post offices of Dhaka and Comilla. This card will minimize the risk of carrying cash in one hand and will enable customers to reap the benefit of encashment and remittance in post office counters and ATM booths on the other hand. This card may also act equally as a Debit Card, Credit Card and Plastic Money.
Through digitization, countries central post office hopes that they will draw back the attention of general people and will increase commercial customers as well. Bangladesh Post Office is and will be of the people, by the people and for the people.