Veerappa Kallappa Bugganor, 75, of Byalahalli-K in Bhalki taluk in Karnataka’s Bidar district, visits the village post office every day. That is not because he has business there every day, but because he likes it.
The stone bench in front of the post office is his favourite spot. Senior citizens like him gather there every morning and sit and chat for hours. “We come here because of the Dakiya; he is a friend of the village,” says Mr. Bugganor, pointing to Mallappa Biradar, the rural postal employee (RPE) at the one-person post office in this village of 2,500 people.
Mr. Bugganor is a beneficiary of Sandhya Suraksha, the State government’s old-age pension scheme. The RPE comes to his house in the first week of every month to hand over the monthly pension of Rs. 500.
He also collects money from the Bugganor couple for their recurring deposit. The village has 450 beneficiaries under various social security pension schemes, a majority of them women. The post office also distributes wages to the 600 labourers in the village covered under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS), whenever works are taken up in the village.
For them and several others in Byalahalli, Mr. Biradar is the one to turn to in case of need. Most of them are unlettered, and they request him to read and write letters or fill in application forms.
The post office accepts telephone bill payments and taxes and other dues to government bodies such as panchayats. While distributing letters and parcels, Mr. Biradar has managed to enrol a hundred rural postal life insurance policies and a similar number of savings bank or recurring deposits, over the last few years.
The post office serves the villages of Byalahalli-K and Neelammanahalli, and a hamlet, Neelammana halli tanda. For Mr. Biradar, a typical day starts at 8.30. Till noon, he sits in his office tending to paper work, sells stamps and covers, and makes or accepts payments. Then he goes around on his moped distributing letters or collecting payments.
“On most days of the week, I’m required to visit all three places,” he said. The 40-year-old RPE has been doing this for 20 years. Till two years ago, he used a bicycle to go around.
“People in rural areas still have a lot of faith in the postal system. The business of courier service companies is restricted to the cities. People in the villages still write letters and send and receive postal parcels,” Mr. Biradar pointed out.
According him, not much has changed over the years in the way rural post offices function. “Our work largely remains the same. The only improvement has been the rise in the habit of saving money among people. There was not a single savings bank account in the post office when I joined. But now, every few months someone comes here, seeking to open a savings account,” he said.
“The Department of Posts should improve its infrastructure in the villages,” says village headman Baburao Patil. “First, the post office should have its own building. More important, it should diversify its services. Value-added services like filling passport applications and electronic money transfers are available only in the cities. They could be started here,” he suggests.