...................................... (Associate Member of National Federation of Postal Employees) ......................,.................
......... An organisation born with the ideals of Trade Union democracy and Unity & United struggle for the emancipation of GDS..
The Central government ignores a nationwide strike
by rural postal workers who are struggling to be recognised as full-time
employees of the Postal Department in order to receive living wages at a time
when they find their workload substantially increased to keep government
WHILE delivering his Independence Day
speech from the ramparts of the Red Fort in 2016, Prime Minister Narendra Modi
spoke glowingly of the post office as an example of national identity and of
how the postman was loved by everyone and vice versa. He also said
that post offices would be converted into payments banks. This was the time
when Jan Dhan accounts were being opened and plans were on to pay Mahatma
Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA) wages through banks
and post offices. The Department of Posts was expected to be the leading agency
for disbursements under the Direct Benefit Transfer (DBT) and Payment System.
It was, after all, the backbone of the country’s communication system. Under
the India Post Payments Bank system, the Postal Department was to tie up with
11 departments to disburse MGNREGA wages, DBT, subsidies, scholarships, and old
age and disabled pensions.
All this certainly made for a heavier
workload for the rural postman. But if Modi’s speech contained any note of promise
for post offices and the bulk of their workforce spread across India’s
villages, it never saw fruition. On May 22, nearly two and a half lakh gramin
dak sevaks (GDSs) started an indefinite strike demanding the implementation of
the recommendations of the “gramin dak sevak committee”, or the Kamlesh Chandra
Committee, which in November 2016 had made strong recommendations in their
favour and described these workers as the “soul” of the Department of Posts.
Of the 1,55,015 post offices in the
country, 1,29,379 (83.5 per cent) are rural post offices served by gramin dak
sevaks. These form the bulwark of the Postal Department, which boasts the
world’s largest network of post offices. Yet, rural postal workers have never
been given the status of full-fledged government employees.
P. Panduranga Rao, a branch
postmaster from Nellore and general secretary of the All India Postal
Employees’ Union-Gramin Dak Sevaks, said: “All these are branch post offices.
The bulk of the work is done by them and gramin dak sevaks. But there are two
sections of employees; those with the Department of Posts, who are equivalent
to Central government employees, and gramin dak sevaks, who are yet to be
regularised despite being the main medium of communication between the Central
government and the rural masses.” It is a situation that has persisted for over
The Kamlesh Chandra Committee was set
up in November 2015. Its brief was to examine gramin dak sevaks’ working
conditions, wage structure, social security benefits and welfare measures in
the light of proposals to induct technology in rural post offices. It submitted
its report in November 2016 with exhaustive recommendations.
One and a half years later, as the
Modi government celebrates its four years in office, the report remains
unimplemented and the government seems oblivious to the plight of the rural
postal workforce. When, on May 14, unions representing nearly three lakh gramin
dak sevaks served notice for an indefinite strike beginning on May 22, it went
largely unnoticed and was ignored in the mainstream national media.
Kamlesh Chandra, who headed the
committee, was a retired member of the Postal Services Board and hence best
suited to understand the gramin dak sevaks’ situation. His was not the first
committee on the gramin dak sevaks; five committees had been set up after 1957.
But the Kamlesh Chandra Committee made a strong pitch for improvement in the
“quality of life of the GDS” and for harmonising their wages and emoluments in
tune with present-day needs and aspirations of young recruits joining the
workforce. In the course of its interactions with gramin dak sevaks, the
committee found that many of them had no other source of income.
The committee cautioned that the
objectives of enabling information and communication technology (ICT) in rural
financial services and getting business from payments banks would be defeated
if the “reasonable demands and aspirations” of gramin dak sevaks were not
looked into. This was all the more important in view of the government’s avowed
focus on “agriculture, farmers’ welfare, development of rural infrastructure,
rural employment, rural enterprises, rural housing, i.e comprehensive rural
development” and the business opportunities that had been created in banking,
insurance, third party business and ecommerce in GDS post offices.
The Kamlesh Chandra Committee report
stated that the GDS post offices “constitute 83.5 per cent of the total post
office network and [are] considered as the Unique Selling Proposition for the
department because of their reach, trustworthiness and accountability”. Gramin
dak sevaks, the committee said, were the “ambassadors of the Department of Posts,
Ministry of Communications, in the rural and remote areas of India” and
“represent the Government of India (GoI) in the far-flung areas of the country
where barely any other representative of GoI exists and therefore create a
strong organic channel between the Central government and citizens of rural
India to transfer the benefits of growth”.
CENTURY OF NEGLECT
The history of gramin dak sevaks,
like that of the rest of the postal system, goes back more than a century. The
British called them extra departmental agents, or EDAs. The EDAs were teachers,
shopkeepers and pensioners who provided basic postal services to rural people
in their spare time in return for a compensation. Ironically, no Central
government in independent India deemed it fit to regularise their services.
Regularisation, therefore, has been one of their major demands. They are
considered as being “outside the Civil Services of the Union” and therefore
cannot claim any parity with Central government employees. In 2011, their
services were governed by a separate set of non-statutory rules titled the GDS
(Conduct and Engagement Rules).
The Kamlesh Chandra Committee found
that while the responsibilities of gramin dak sevaks had increased over the
past few years, given the focus on rural post offices as business development
entities, their emoluments had not gone up commensurately. They were allotted
business targets for the opening of accounts under the Post Office Savings Bank
(POSB), the Sukanya Samriddhi Scheme and policies under the Rural Postal Life
Insurance and Atal Pension Yojana on a regular basis, which made their jobs
“more demanding and keeping them on their toes, to bring more business”.
The First Pay Commission did not make
a distinction between Postal Department employees and gramin dak sevaks. The
discrimination began with the Second Pay Commission. A Supreme Court order
observed that “an extra departmental agent is not a casual worker but holds a
post under the administrative control of the state and that, while, such a post
is outside the regular civil services, there is no doubt it is a post under the
state”. This was interpreted to mean that gramin dak sevaks were only holders
of civil posts but were not civilian employees. When the Fifth Pay Commission
(1994) was constituted, gramin dak sevaks’ unions demanded a judicial committee
to look into their issues. In 1995, a committee headed by a retired High Court
judge (Charanjit Talwar Committee) recommended that EDAs (as rural postal
workers were still called) should get salaries on a par with departmental
employees. In 1998, during the National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA) first
tenure, the committee report was examined by the Postal Board Officers, who
concluded that its recommendations were not applicable because EDAs were part-time
Panduranga Rao told Frontline that
the Department of Posts had been constantly altering service rules for gramin
dak sevaks. Before the Talwar Committee’s recommendations, they were
administered by the Conduct and Service Rules, 1964. The department changed it
to Conduct and Employment Rules. “By removing the term ‘Service’, in effect the
department diluted our demand for parity with departmental employees,” he said.
In 2009, a Pay Commission for EDAs was set up coterminously with the Sixth Pay
Commission. Now, EDAs are called gramin dak sevaks, but the service rules are
now titled “Conduct and Engagement Rules”. So rural postal workers are now
governed by “engagement rules” rather than “service” rules.
The Talwar Committee had in fact
upgraded all categories of gramin dak sevaks to matching categories in the
Postal Department. For instance, a branch postmaster like Panduranga Rao was
equated to the category of a Postal Assistant (Clerical Cadre) in the Postal
Department; a rural mail deliverer was equal to a Postal Department postman.
The committee also found that a good number of gramin dak sevaks were educated
up to the secondary or higher secondary level, while a very small per cent were
illiterate. Before the Talwar Committee, the monthly wages of a Branch
Postmaster was Rs.275, whereas the minimum pay scale under the FourthPay
Commission was Rs.750-940.
The Kamlesh Chandra Committee found
young, talented, and well-educated gramin dak sevaks whose aspirations went
beyond those of their predecessors. But there was no plan to either regularise
them or to ensure that they received decent emoluments. They are in fact
assumed to be part-timers and, at the time of recruitment, are required to have
alternative sources of income. They are compensated with a time related
continuity allowance (TRCA), which the committee found “exploitative and non
transparent” as it is linked to workload and is “not assessed promptly,
regularly and correctly”.
The committee visited Rae Bareilly
division in Uttar Pradesh upon inspecting the TRCA slip of one worker, which
showed his net TRCA was Rs.3,977 after deductions which, it said, was “not
sufficient to manage monthly expenditures”. All newly recruited workers are in
similar situations, the committee found. A senior gramin dak sevak was found to
receive a wage of around Rs.9,000, which “was not sufficient to manage even the
basic needs of living with a small family in the rural/urban areas without any
alternative source of income and since the alternative source of income is not
available, the GDS’ are facing financial problems”.
The gramin dak sevaks interviewed by
the committee in various circles said that they did not have any other means of
livelihood and were totally dependent on what they got from the Postal
Department. Depleting income from agriculture, which once supplemented the
incomes of such workers, compounds the crisis. “Is it right to take 18 months
to implement the committee’s report?” asked M. Krishnan, former secretary
general of the National Federation of Postal Employees.
Explaining the critical role of rural
workers, Panduranga Rao said: “The last mile of the Postal Department is our
post office as we are the nearest to the rural public. We disbursed Rs.27,000
crore worth of wages under the MGNREGA through post offices in Rajasthan,
Telangana, Andhra Pradesh, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh. Even though their
working hours are limited, EDAs or GDS sometimes put in more than 10 hours of
work. The public can come any time to the home of the branch postmaster, whose
home is his office. There is no provision for giving us a house rent allowance
or organising an office for us.” He added that in parts of rural Delhi, branch
postmasters paid Rs.5,000 as rent while earning Rs.8,000-Rs.9,000 a month.
Gramin Dak Sevaks demonstration in Madurai, Tamil Nadu on May, 28.
An uncleared post box at Kollam,
Kerala, on May 26, when the strike was on. - C. SURESH
Panduranga Rao, who has a
postgraduate degree in science, was forced to take up the job of a branch
postmaster because of family circumstances. After 25 years of service, his
monthly emoluments have not crossed Rs.10,000. “When committee after committee
recommended that we should be given a pension and dearness allowance, the
Finance Ministry raised objections arguing that we were “engaged” employees as
per the service rules. Because of our present strike, we know that courier and
postal services have got affected and we are very sorry about that. Postal employees
are supporting us as well,” he said. Several central trade unions like the
Centre of Indian Trade Unions, the Indian National Trade Union Congress and
even the Bharatiya Mazdoor Sangh have extended support to the striking gramin
Yet, the Central government and the
Postal Department under the Union Ministry of Communications have turned a
blind eye to the strike. The dissatisfaction among rural postal workers is an
indicator of the growing resentment against the Central government’s policies
which have sought to exact the maximum from such workers while giving them the
least in the form of emoluments and benefits.
MODI AND THE
This is what Modi said in his
Independence Day address in 2016: “The post office is an example of our identity.
We have revived and rejuvenated our post offices. It is now linked with poor
and small persons. If any government representative gets the affection of a
common man in India, it is the postman. Everyone loves the postman and the
postman also loves everybody, but we never paid attention to them. We have
taken a step to convert our post offices into payments banks. Starting of this
payments bank will spread the chain of banks in the villages across the country
in one go.”
Notwithstanding the Prime Minister’s
avowed sympathy for the postman, and despite the Kamlesh Chandra Committee’s
recommendations, no attention has been paid to gramin dak sevaks.