The 75th Independence Day coincides with another milestone in the country’s history — it was on August 15, 1972, that the Postal Index Number (PIN) was introduced in India. As the PIN code turns 50 on Monday, we look at its history and evolution.
According to the Department of Posts, there were 23,344 post offices, primarily in urban areas, in India at the time of Independence. But, the country was growing rapidly and the postal network had to keep pace.
The PIN code was meant to ease the process of mail sorting and delivery in a country where different places, often, have the same or similar names, and letters are written in a wide variety of languages.
The PIN is made up of six digits. The first number indicates the postal region — Northern, Eastern, Western, Southern; and number 9, which signifies the Army Postal Service. The second number denotes a sub-region, and the third represents the sorting district. The remaining numbers narrow the geography further to the specific post office making the delivery.
Who was the person behind the initiative?
The person behind the initiative was Shriram Bhikaji Velankar, additional secretary in the Union Ministry of Communications and a senior member of the Posts and Telegraphs Board.
Velankar was also a Sanskrit poet of eminence who had been conferred the President’s Award for Sanskrit in 1996, three years before he died in Mumbai. Among Velankar’s 105 books and plays in Sanskrit was the Viloma Kavya, which is considered a literary masterpiece because it comprises verses in praise of Lord Rama when read from one side and, when read backwards, it transformed into verses dedicated to Lord Krishna. Velankar had set up a cultural group in Mumbai, called the Dev Vani Mandiram, which worked to create awareness about Sanskrit in India and foreign countries. Velankar was also the chairman of the World Philatelic Exhibition, called Indipex, which was held in New Delhi in 1973 and featured 120 countries. He retired from his government service on December 31, 1973.
What are some parallel systems followed world over?
Globally, in the US, the Zone Improvement Plan (ZIP) code was introduced July 1, 1963, under the aegis of the Postal Service Nationwide Improved Mail Service plan to improve the speed of mail delivery. According to the Library of Congress, “Under the old system letters went through about 17 sorting stops – the new system was going to be considerably less time-consuming utilizing newer, more mechanical systems”.
In the UK, the sorting of mail started getting mechanised in the mid-1960s. “The key to mechanisation is an alphanumeric postal code that provides for sorting by machine at every stage of handling, including the carrier’s delivery route. The coding equipment translates the postal code into a pattern of dots by means of which machines can sort mail at eight times the speed of manual sorting,” informs Encyclopedia Britannica. Japan created its postal code address system in July 1968, and automatic postal code reader-sorters exist in major post offices of the country.
With the spread of the Internet, when people are sending fewer letters, it is easy to question the relevance of the PIN code.
But try to order a food delivery or a parcel over online shopping and the importance of Velankar’s work in India will become evident.