Postal Communication

Postal Communication exists from the ancient age and the evidences of existence of earliest postal system in the subcontinent were found in the vedic work Atharvaveda records. But whether it was in vogue in Bengal is not known. It is an undenying fact that like all other civilisations, the system of exchange of information was available here. Literary sources and folk tales, as well as rhymes, however, reveal that the duts (messengers) and different animals and birds were used to send messages from one place to another. Even monsoon clouds and wind were also thought by eminent poets like kalidasa in his famous poetical works Meghaduta as medium for sending messages to a person of choice. We can find swans in the episodes of Nala-Damayanti, Hanuman in Ramayana, Bidur in Mahavarata, deer in Anarkali as faithful messengers. Bengali synonym postal service is dak-byabostha, which is derived from dak or to call or draw attention. Thus, we see dak-ghara (post office), dak-mashul (postal charges) and' 'Dak-harkara' (postal couriers) etc.

Systematic chronology of the development of postal services during the Muslim rule can be traced to the reign of Sultan Qutubuddin Ibek, the first Sultan of Delhi in 1206-10 AD. He established a postal system in the Arabian style (horse-drawn dak) from Delhi to Bengal. He also introduced some new terms as qasid (messenger), dhawa (runner), and ulagh (horse courier). Sultan Alauddin Khilji, who established the first recorded dak chowki, introduced a reformed postal system; he organised a horse and foot runner service as early as in 1296. The postal department was called Mahakama-i-Barid, and was placed under the supervision of two postal officers Malik Barid-i-Mamalik and his deputy Naib Barid-i-Mamalik. He appointed news writers (munshi) in every town.

Important contribution in improving the postal system was made during the reign of Mohammed bin Tughlaq (1325-1351). ibn baTtuta, travelling during his reign recalled that there existed two different kinds of postal system: mounted couriers travelling on horses, and the general couriers on foot. During the Tughlaq period the postal officials also performed some police functions.

The postal system was completely reformed during the reign of sher shah (1538-1545), who established a mounted post in Bengal by improving the early dak runner system, and constructed the grand trunk road from sonargaon to the bank of the river Indus covering a distance of 4,800 km. He established sarai-cum-dak chowkis after every two miles at all intervals. According to Abbas Khan Sherwani, author of Tarikh-i-Sher-Shahi, Sher Shah constructed 1,700 post houses employing nearly 3,400 postal messengers and horses. His postal system was based on self-centred policy. He did not favour the devolution of authority to his governors and ministers.

Mir Munshi who was the secretary of the imperial farmans, the correspondence and postal system was under the supervision of the Darogah-i-Dak Chowki. The elaborate postal system with a large number of employees was called Diwan-i-Insa. The mails were carried by mewras, a lower cast of tribal origin, stationed at every post, with two clerks called tarikh navis.

During the early Mughal conquests, larger part of Bengal remained semi-independent. Mughal rulers retained the system of Darogah-i-Dak Chowki during their presence in Bengal. The dak chowkis were mainly controlled by the provincial governments. During the period of Jahangir at every provincial headquarters the Darogah or the superintendent of the Dak Chowki was appointed for receiving and despatching letters to and from Dhaka, Capital of Bengal since 1610. The important types of letter were (1) Farmans (Royal orders), (2) Shuqque (a letter written directly to any other person by the emperor), (3) Nishan (a letter from a prince or any other royal person except the emperor), (4) Hasb-ul-hukum (a letter written by a minister, under the direction of the Emperor, conveying his orders), (5) Sanad (a letter of appointment), (6) Parwanah (an administrative order to a subordinate official), and (7) Dastak (a short official permit). The Darogah-i-Dak Chowki in Dhaka handed over the royal daks received from the various provinces unopened to the Mir Bakshi (secretary) for submission to the emperor. Mir Bakshi in his turn opened all letters except those addressed personally to the emperor. Darogah-i-Dak Chowki was appointed for receiving and despatching letters to and from Dhaka. The harkara was the lowest rank in the postal administration. In addition to carrying mails, his principal duty was to spy the news of all occurrences and convey the report to the governor of the suba. During the period of Jahangir, the pigeon post was introduced which carried message from Bengal to Orissa and Rajmahal to Murshidabad.

During the early years of the English east india company, it managed a postal service smaller to that of the Mughal emperors. This was necessary to ensure the lines of communication between the trading centres of Calcutta and those of Dhaka, Chittagong, Dinajpur, Rajshahi, Rangpur, Rajmahal and Murshidabad. In 1766, the first reform in postal service was introduced by robert clive. A postmaster was appointed in Calcutta, which was connected with six mail routes. The main connection was with Dhaka and Patna. This system was known as Clive's Post.

During the period of warren hastings, a General Post Office (GPO) was established in Calcutta on 17 March 1774. The new tariff for a letter under a regular dak system, was 2 annas (one anna was one-sixteenth part of a taka) for every 160 km within Bengal. For this, 139 stages, 417 harkaras, 139 mashalchies (torchbearers) and 139 drummers were appointed. The dak system not only carried letters but also provided facilities for travel. In 1784, the palki dak (palanquin postal service) was introduced. The palki dak would carry both passengers and letters and would operate round the year, except for four months of the rainy season from June to September. The banghy dak or the parcel post was introduced through various dak chowkis of eastern Bengal in 1785. This was the predecessor to the modern parcel post system. In 1791, the postal rates were revised and the rate calculated from Calcutta was 3 annas for Dhaka, and 6 annas for Chittgong. A more systematic and organised approach towards the postal service was taken after passing the regulation of 1793, according to which the zamindars were to maintain the local dak. At this time the business class used to maintain their own dak system called the mahajani dak. This patronised the well-established individuals, merchants and zamindars. lord wellesley reformed the postal system through a bill passed in 1798. The post offices of Eastern Bengal were under the jurisdiction of Calcutta GPO, which in 1798-99 had 9 branches - at Dhaka, Chittagong, Dinajpur, Rangpur, Natore, Kumarkhali, Raghunathpur, Sylhet and Ramu.

First postage stamp of the Indian Sub-continent was introduced in 1 October 1854. With its introduction a unified postal rate was introduced.

Carriages of mails by the railway began in 1854 and the Railway Mail Service (RMS) was established in 1864. In 1854, the first postage stamps were introduced having denominations of half anna (red-orange) and one anna (bright blue). Travelling post offices opened service in 1875 and regular railway mail service was introduced on 1 February 1880, which initiated sorting of local mails. During the year 1864-65, the postal service doubled its income. The Post Office Act 1866 was introduced in 1867. In September 1878, the East Bengal Circle, with headquarters in Dhaka and delivery offices in Chittagong, Mymensingh, Comilla, and Noakhali were formed. The post card of the value of BCth anna each was introduced from 1 July 1879 and this was the cheapest rate in the world at that time. Embossed envelopes valued at 1 anna were introduced on 1 July 1873. Despatching letters by registered post was introduced on 1 August 1877, value payable postal service on 1 December 1877 and insured letter service on 1 January 1878. Letterboxes were first introduced in 1856-57 and their number rose gradually.

The money order system was introduced in all post offices from 1 January 1880. The postal circle of Assam was created on 1 April 1873 with districts of Cooch Bihar, Sylhet and Kachhar under a chief inspector.

The telegraph service was introduced in all major post offices, and was gradually extended. The railway mail and sorting office was extended to steamer services and the first such RMS section was opened in 1884 with the Assam Steamer Service, which was, however, abolished in 1904.

In the Dhaka and Narayanganj steamer service RMS was opened to work between Narayanganj and Fenchuganj. On Barisal and Khulna steamer service RMS was opened in 1899 but was abolished in 1902. The telegram service was introduced through the telegraph offices attached to the post offices from 1 December 1883. Express telegram service was introduced in 1909.

In 1905, Bengal was divided and a new province consisting of Eastern Bengal and Assam was created with Dhaka as its capital. The postal circle of East Bengal and Assam was established in 1907 with the existing circles that fell within its jurisdiction. With the annulment of the partition in 1911, the circles were merged with those in Bengal and Assam. With the outbreak of the First World War in 1914, various field post offices were set up. By 1920, the postal service in East Bengal and Assam had a significant growth both in number and new services. Payment of postage through meter franking was introduced on 23 February 1920.

On 1 December 1933, the Dhaka-Calcutta airmail service was opened. The same day the Calcutta-Rangoon via Chittagong route was opened. Due to the outbreak of the Second World War in 1939, the postal departments took immense security measures. Inland postal censor station was opened in Chittagong and in March 1943, censor sub-stations were opened in Dhaka, Mymensingh and Chandpur. The first field post office in Eastern Bengal was opened at Jhikargachha (Jessore) in May 1942. Later, more field post offices were opened to maintain the line of communications with the fighting forces in Assam, Arakan and Burma. Normal postal functions during this period were partially disrupted and postal officials from all circles volunteered for the field postal service. With the end of the war in 1945, the field post offices were disbanded and merged with other existing advanced base post offices.

On 14 August 1947, the British Indian Empire was divided into two separate independent states India and Pakistan. The province of Bengal was also divided with greater part of Eastern Bengal forming East Bengal, Sylhet district of the then Assam also joined with East Bengal.

A new East Bengal postal circle was created out of the former Bengal and Assam Circle in 1948. With the large-scale transmigration of the Muslim and Hindu population between India and Pakistan, an acute shortage of personnel, equipment and stamps was felt in the new circle. In some cases letters remained undelivered for months. British Indian postage stamps and stationery were overprinted at Nasik (Bombay) and in Dhaka, Chittagong and Khulna, with the word 'Pakistan' for use within East Pakistan.

Pakistan's own stamps were first issued on 9 July 1948, and the first regular series of definitive stamps were issued on 14 August 1948. Since 1950 a programme to upgrade and modernise the postal facilities in East Pakistan was taken up. Important sub-post offices were upgraded to head post offices. After the official recognition of Bangla as a state language in 1956, Bangla language were introduced in all the stamps and the stationery. New meter franking machines, imported from England, were given to all important post offices, especially in the head post offices. New routes of airmail service were also opened.

Dhaka-Karachi-Dhaka daily flights were established by the Pakistan International Airlines to carry mail from East to West Pakistan and vice versa. The international mail routes were also rescheduled. From 1959, new GPOs were established in Dhaka, Khulna and Chittagong. A new complex for Dhaka GPO was built in 1963. With the construction of the Kamalapur railway station in 1969, the Dhaka RMS was moved there. A separate sorting section for airmails was also created.

With gradual improvement in the transport facilities and local air routes, internal airmail service was also introduced among Dhaka, Chittagong, Comilla, Saidpur, and Barisal. By 1970, postal mechanisation took a significant turn with the introduction of new types of franking machines and automatic stamps and stationery vending machines.

The post office also performs many important functions such as renewal of radio and driving licenses, selling of prize bonds, payment of military pension etc. A Philatelic Bureau was established at Dhaka GPO and philatelic counters were opened at 29 head offices.

The mujibnagar government of Bangladesh formed in exile on 17 April 1971 in Kushtia immediately set up a postal service with more than 50 field post offices in different fronts or border areas, fully or partially administered by the mukti bahini (liberation force). Field post masters and scouts were appointed for carrying mails. It released 8 definitive stamps, which were the first stamps of Bangladesh, on 29 July 1971 simultaneously from Mujibnagar secretariat, the Bangladesh diplomatic missions and the House of Commons in London.

With the surrender of the Pakistani armed forces in Dhaka on 16 December 1971, the postal administration of the Mujibnagar government closed all the field post offices and merged itself with the existing postal administration in Bangladesh. Bangladesh inherited a postal system completely disrupted as a result of the war of liberation. Not only was much of the equipment destroyed, burnt or misplaced but also shortage of trained staff was a constant problem during years after liberation. The loss due to looting and burning of post offices was estimated at about Tk 1.5 million. As many as 120 post office buildings were burnt and about 200 officials were killed. After the war the whole postal system had to be reorganised. The total number of post offices in 1971-72 was 6,667 with a staff of 24,983.

Initially, the postal system was divided into eastern and western circles; in 1979, the circles were: central (Dhaka), southern (Khulna), northern (Rajshahi) and eastern (Chittagong). A postal mechanisation and modernisation project was taken up and by 1980, the post office acquired one mechanical letter sorting machine, 163 stamp cancelling machines and 88 new franking machines. Bangladesh became a member of the Universal Postal Union (UPU) on 28 February 1973.

The 1980s saw a new turn in the postal system as new post offices were constantly opened and new services introduced every year. The postal route covered 39,883 km in 1988-89. The Guaranteed Express Post (GEP) was introduced on 19 February 1984. In July 1984, International Express Mail Service was introduced with the first service established with UK. A new service of sending electronic mail on the Intelpost was introduced on 6 December 1988. The postcode system was introduced on 22 December 1986. To preserve the old heritage of the postal service and the old relics of the post office, a Postal Museum was established in Dhaka on 30 January 1985.

To provide training to officers and staff, a Postal Academy was established in Rajshahi in 1986.

Since independence Bangladesh Post Office has issued various definitive and commemorative stamps on national and international occasions. Until 1989, these stamps were printed by such security printers as Nasik (India), Bradbury Wilkinson and Harrison & Sons (England) and Asher & Co (Australia). But since the inauguration of Bangladesh's own security printing press on 7 December 1989, all types of stamps and postal stationery are printed there. To promote philately in the country, the post office organised national philatelic exhibitions in 1984 and 1992. Regional stamp exhibitions were also organised in Khulna (1984) and Rajshahi (1995). In addition to definitive and commemorative stamps, the post office is also responsible for printing non-postal stamps (fiscal and revenue stamps for paying court fees, non-judicial stamps, revenue stamps etc.) for the government. At present, the number of post offices in Bangladesh is about 9,886 and they cover a total route of 51,000 km. There is one post office for every 13,000 citizens. The post office initiates electronic mail services on 16 August in 2000. Presently, naming e-post service covers 16 main post offices of Bangladesh. Any person without holding own e-mail account can send speedly images, documents and news to use an e-mail address of the post office through this service. Since 26 March of 2010, the post office inaugurates Electronic Money Transfer Service through electronic posting. Now it is easy sending money swiftly with a small amount of cost to the remote area of the country using cell phone. Till now this service is running in 1150 post offices.

It is possible to despatch weighted between 20 gram to 20 kg of documents, commodities, letters and memoranda through Express Mail Service (EMS) within 72 hours over 43 countries of the world. Not only that but it is also conceivable to identify the route of sending matters through tracking system. Besides, the post office starts postal life insurance, endowment insurance and banking facilities. The post office installs for the sight handicapped people free charge service upto 800 grams to despatch learning elements. [Ishtiaque Ahmed Khan]