GPO Srinagar A Royal Legacy

Chander M. Bhat
Organized Postal Services in Jammu and Kashmir State started in the early half of nineteenth century under the aegis of the Maharaja’s Government notwithstanding existence of despatch riders to carry official mail from times immemorial. Since there were no regular means of communication with the outside world and with the changed circumstances the capital of the Punjab had to be connected with Srinagar. Representations from the people and Government had to be submitted to the Suzerian Government at Lahore through ambassadors; orders and farmans were communicated in a similar manner. It was a source of great inconvenience to the people as well as to the Government. This difficulty continued for a period of more than two years, as no better arrangements were made. The need for a new system was increasing daily; and, in order to satisfy it, arrangements were made to start a mail service. In the year 1823 a regular mail line was inaugurated, and communication was opened via Shopian and Rampur, direct with Gujarat and Lahore and it presumed that during this period a State Post Office was opened in Srinagar for receipt and despatch of mails so received from Gujarat and Lahore, with two harkars to carry dak from one stage to another. It was during this period Pandit Bhawani Dass Mujjoo a local from Rainawari was summoned to Lahore and after receiving instructions from His Highness the Maharaja Ranjit Singh, he returned to Kashmir after two months to carry out his duties as Akhbar Navis and Postal Officer. In the year 1848 Dewan Ram Mujjoo was appointed Postmaster in place of his elder brother Bhawani Dass by Maharaja Ranbir Singh after the death of the later.
Dewan Ram Majjoo, Postmaster, petitioned the Maharaja that he had become old and his son Krishen Joo Majjoo be appointed in his place. Under the orders of His Highness, Krishen Joo Mujjoo was appointed in his father’s place. Krishen Joo Mujjoo performed his duties till 1895 and it was during his period that Imperial Post Office was opened in Srinagar in the year 1867.
After annexation of Kashmir to Jammu, Maharaja Gulab Singh established a communication link between Jammu and Kashmir by creating 38 Dak Chowkies, which were manned by Harkaras (foot runners). Later Maharaja Ranbir Singh improved the mail transmission system in the State, especially between Jammu and Srinagar by establishing 129 chowkies (runner stages) from Jammu to Srinagar. Mail used to be conveyed from Jammu to Srinagar (298 km) by the Harkars in 25-30 hours only.
During 1864 A.D. (Samvat 1921) communication link was established between Jammu and Lahore too. In 1865 A.D., the Maharaja requested Mr. Hegue, the Postmaster General, to visit J&K and on his recommendations adopted the pattern of Indian Postal System for his own kingdom.
Till 1866, postal charges used to be realized in cash. The Postal stamps were first printed in 1866 A.D. (Samvat 1923) which later bore bilingual legends in Dogri and Persian. Registered letter @ 4 Anna were also introduced.
In 1882-83 (S. 1939-40), Money Order Service started with a fee of Re.1/- per hundred. The total postal traffic recorded was 63, 05,994 letters besides other papers and parcels during the year. Special attention was given to services for tourists who frequented the valley. Post Card priced at one paisa was introduced in 1883 (S. 1940).
During this period postal establishment was manned by two Officers In-Charge of Srinagar Head Offices, 2 Postmasters, 11 Sub Postmasters, 44 Branch Postmasters, 31 Dak line overseers, 89 runners and 10 post peons.
During the years 1891-92, 3 new post offices were opened in Kashmir; besides installation of a large number of letterboxes. Further in pursuance of the postal convention between State Council and the Imperial Government, Imperial Post Offices were opened at Jammu, Naushera, Uri and Domel in addition to those already in existence at Srinagar and Leh.
The State was proud of its efficient postal system as reflected in its Administrative Report No: 522275. 162482 articles were carried during the year 1891 (S.1947).
In 1893-94, seven new Imperial Post Offices were opened at Muzaffarabad, Garhi, Huttian, Rampur, Sopore, Bandipore and Gilgit with the consent of State Council. State Branch Offices were opened at Thanna (Jammu), Bijbehara and Rampur (Kashmir), while the Post Office at Chakoti in Kashmir were closed. Since the Domel Telegraph line was transferred to the Imperial Government, the State postal work at Sopore, Baramulla, Uri, Domail and Bandipore was performed with the consent of the Imperial Telegraph Department by the staff transferred to them. Year 1884 is an important landmark in the Postal History of the State. The State Postal system was transferred to the Imperial Postal Department vide Council resolution dated March 16, 1894 which came into effect from November 1894 with the exception of the Hunza, Nagir, Nomal and Chilas mail lines which continued in the charge of the state.
In the year 1903-1904, the number of Post Offices in the state was 102 (3 HOs, 27 SOs and 71 BOs).
Started during the Dogra rule as the Head Post Office, the facility was aimed to serve the then British Residency office in Srinagar till it subsequently picked up in the public circles. This is why the office was constructed just next to the office of British Residency on the fashionable Bund.
In 1947 at the time of partition of India, the employees of the Head Post Office Srinagar hoisted a Pakistani flag atop the building and it remained there for some time.
The old Head Post Office building at the Bund was gutted in the post 47 era and the new building in place was constructed in ’70s. The state was under the administrative control of the Postmaster General of Punjab and the NWFP Circle and the new Postal Circle of Jammu and Kashmir came into existence in the year 1979.
Head Post Office, Srinagar was upgraded to the Status of General Post Office on 01.04.1964 with M.L.Bali as its first Senior Postmaster and the same was functioning in single building adjacent to the residence of British Resident, near the Bund. Later in the year 1980, two new buildings came up and the foundation stone of these buildings was laid by Sheikh Mohd. Abdullah, the then Chief Minister of Jammu and Kashmir State.
The General Post Office, Srinagar is the central Post Office of Kashmir Valley and the Chief Post Office of Jammu and Kashmir State. The Post Office handles most of the city’s inbound and outbound mail and parcels. Situated in the Civil Lines area, the imposing structure of the GPO is one of the landmarks in Srinagar city.
While the Department is committed to provide basic postal services to the people at an affordable price, it has also in the last few years tried to take initiatives to introduce value added postal services at market competitive price depending on the needs of the customers and in tune with economic and industrial growth in the country and rapid progress in information technology, the Department has initiated programmes of modernization with new technology. Enhancement of customer satisfaction through more relevant and efficient service with improvement of work-environment has been the focus of these programmes. Computer-based computer machines, introduction of Hybrid mail, E-Post, Bill Post, Express Parcel Post, Greeting Post, Business Post, E-Bill Post, Media Post, Data Post, Retail Post, Philately, Corporate Money Order Service, IMTS, iMO, eMO and up-gradation of Speed Post service have been some of the initiatives.
In J&K today, a Post Office serves on average 5983 persons and provides service over an area of about 1,01,385 sq. km., and area covered by each Post Office is 82.55 sq. km (which includes large number of uninhabited and desert area of Ladakh region). The achievement in this regard can be better appreciated when we remember that the state’s population has doubled since last about 58 years.
For the first time in history of Indian Post Offices or perhaps of the world, a ‘Floating Mobile Post Office’ was opened in a ‘Shikara’, in Srinagar from 1st October to 31st October 1953. This Post Office worked over ‘Dal Lake’ and ‘Jhelum’ River to cater the needs of visitors from Indian and foreign countries, who generally stay in House Boats.
This idea was so much appreciated that floating mobile post office became a regular feature during summer seasons in Srinagar. In 1954 summer, the Department operated three floating mobile post offices in between 15th April and 31st October 1954. The first one was in Dal Lake, the second was at Negin Bagh and the third one was in Jhelum River. In 1955, the floating mobile post offices opened from 16th April at Dal Lake and Jhelum River and from 2nd July at Negin Bagh. They remained opened till 31st October 1955. “VITASTA” (after the ancient name of Jhelum River) was the name of the Shikara, which was in service in Jhelum. “FIRDAUS” was the name of Shikara for Dal Lake and “USHA” Shikara catered in Negin Lake. These three mobile post offices worked as ‘No Delivery Post Offices’ upto 1959.
Since 1947, Department of Posts has issued about 3200 Commemorative and Definitive Stamps and 25 commemorative stamps have been issued on the theme of Jammu and Kashmir State.
(The author is former Assistant Director Postal Services, J&K)