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Swan That Never Tires Of Flying

Updated: March 16, 2013 1:44 pm

The flying swan, a bird known for its strength, courage, speed and ability to reach out to inaccessible places, has been adopted by the Army Postal Service as its mythical carrier of messages with the motto Mel Milap through mail


The song of Border—chitthi aati hain sandesh-e laati hain, is still fresh in our mind as it dwells on the importance of staying in touch with his family by a soldier posted on the border or in the civilian area. For him, service to his country and staying in the loop with his family, is very important.

The location of armed forces personnel serving in forward areas is invariably classified. While mobile and internet may be the preferred means of communication for most people today, the soldiers may not have access to them on the border. So, how do their family members and friends communicate with them?

They simply write on an envelope or an inland with name, unit details and mail it to “Care of” (C/O) 56 or 99 APO, depending on whether the soldiers are stationed in the western or eastern sector. Whether keeping a vigil in the forlorn forward post or elsewhere, where even eagles do not soar, Army Postal Service (APS) through Army Post Office (APO) and subsidiary network of multitudes of Field Post Offices (FPO) ensures timely deliveries of letters.

The 56 and the 99 APO incidentally are the two Central Base Post Office (CBPO) mail sorting hubs operating out of New Delhi (No. 1 CBPO) and Kolkata (No. 2 CBPO), respectively. They do take care of the entire postal needs of armed forces and a few other ancillary paramilitary organisations.

The origin of these two famous forwarding mail hubs of APS has an interesting history. Subsequent to the victory over Japan by allied forces in August 1945, the ‘Indian Army Postal Service’ as it was then known, began the process of disbanding all its existing 137 FPOs.

The 56 FPO, which was raised in Secunderabad on June 30, 1941, was the last FPO awaiting its disbandment. Having just returned from Iwakuni, the British Commonwealth Occupation Force Air Base in Japan, it was, however, left unscathed.

Redesignated on October 24, 1947, with a new coded security address “C/O 56 APO”, it began as the new base sorting office in New Delhi to serve the postal needs of troops stationed in Punjab and Jammu and Kashmir, as a consequence of the Pakistani raiders’ invasion on October 20, 1947.

Today, there are more than 350 FPOs under 1 CBPO taking care of mails addressed to “C/O 56 APO”, encompassing the entire spectrum of our country except the eastern sector.

Meanwhile, “C/O 99 APO” came into being as the coded security address for all formations in the eastern theatre, including all the eight north-eastern states, West Bengal and the Andaman group of islands, with the raising of 2 CBPO on April 1, 1964. It addresses all its postal operations through its network of nearly 130 FPOs.

While the APS Corps celebrated its 41st ‘Raising Day’ on Friday, March 1, 2013, its origin dates back to as early as 1856 when the APS was first conceived as a wartime organisation, integral to the expeditionary forces headed to Bushire, in the Persian Gulf and several other such missions elsewhere, later.

Till 1947, the APS was a part of the ‘Indian General Service’, which was then disbanded. It was later affiliated to the ‘Army Service Corps’ as its postal branch until establishing itself as an independent Corps from March 1, 1972 onwards, with a defined role. It includes, ensuring security by use of security address and assisting censorship, implementing postal concessions and providing postal facilities to troops in the operational areas.

It also adopted the ‘flying swan’, the mythical carrier of messages in several Indian epics, including the Mahabharata, as its emblem with the motto “Mel Milap” (in Hindi) meaning ‘union through mail’. Swan is a graceful bird known for its strength, courage, speed and ability to reach out to inaccessible places, an appropriate symbol of what APS stands for.

For the benefit of the troops, the APS provides all services that ‘India Post’—National Postal Network—offers to its client base. These include, besides routine postal services, services such as Speed Post, Express Parcel Post, Postal Life Insurance, E-Post, Post Office Savings Bank, Public Provident Fund among others. It is set to introduce several ‘core banking solutions’ and ‘value-added services,’ relieving soldiers of their anxiety while serving in the forward areas.

Contrary to perceptions that cellular connectivity and internet must be denting the mail volume in present times, statistics indicate otherwise. Brigadier (APS) Eastern Command, B Chandrasekhar, ascribes this phenomenon to the rise in the volume of official and business mails.

Amplifying further, Col Akhilesh Pandey, Commandant No. 2 CBPO says, “The mails from various service providers such as financial institutions, including banks, insurance and investment companies for their business transactions are on the rise. The services also extensively use the ‘Scheduled Despatch Services’ (SDS) for despatch of all their secure official mail.”

But the organisation that is manned by volunteer officers drawn from the Indian Postal Service on deputation, together with three-fourth of its personnel drawn from the Postal Department, does not sit on its laurels. It has been evolving newer ‘value-added services’ to retain its trusted clientele base, the Indian soldier, who knows that as long as his mails are in the safe hands of the ‘flying swan’ comrades, he will always be connected with his family and friends, irrespective of his remote or classified location.

By Joydeep dasgupta

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