The Central government’s decision to shut down the country’s lone government postal printing press in Bhubaneswar has triggered sharp reactions among its employees. With orders now set to go to private printing presses, many of the 146 employees said private operators often under-deliver, thus “cheating” the government, and questioned the government’s evaluation of departmental efficiency.
A letter dated May 9 from the Ministry of Communication says the “Committee of Secretaries has recommended the closure”. It mentions only “rationalisation” and “modernisation” as reasons for the unit’s closure, and does not mention a date for closure.
Set up in 1986, the press at Bhubaneswar’s Mancheswar Industrial Estate prints postal banking forms for seven states, including Odisha, along with public utility documents such as election ballots, MGNREGA booklets, and Ujjwala passbooks.
Odisha circle Chief Postmaster General Santosh Kamila said the closure comes after years of operating with losses. He is unaware of the figures.
Employees said the closure is confirmed because the press this year has not received its annual supply of raw material — paper and ink — which comes by April. They expect last year’s supplies to last another four to five weeks at optimum production.
When these supplies run out, they said, the press will come to a halt.
“In many of his speeches, the Prime Minister has stressed on (the need for) ‘minimum government’, by which he meant discarding inefficient, loss-making government activities. But how does the government measure a department’s efficiency,” asked Jyotirmaya Das, an employee at the press.
Das said, “Earlier, raw material for our press came through tender (by Commerce Ministry’s) Directorate General of Supplies and Disposal (DGS&D), which was changed to the Government e-Market online system in 2017. DGS&D was inefficient and procured paper for us with delays every year. Each year, our machines were idle for two months. Disregarding this, the government has categorised our office as inefficient and recommended closure.”
Another employee, Prabhu Mohapatra, said, “Although we work honestly, the government press is losing printing contracts to rapacious private press owners. We receive annual orders to print crores of forms, which are mostly not counted upon delivery to respective government departments. We print 2,000 metric-tonnes (MT) of forms against the government requirement of 1.2 lakh MT nationwide.”
Mohapatra alleged that many private presses deliver, “say, 10,000 fewer forms against an order of 10 lakh. The government ends up paying the entire amount. They (private presses) price their rates below us because they are already cheating, but the government is hoodwinked into thinking they are more efficient and cost-effective.”
Several private press owners in Bhubaneswar told The Indian Express that there are discrepancies in deliveries, but attributed those to “human error”.