135-yr-old money order service bids silent goodbye

India Post authorities point to proliferation of mobile telephony and data communications for the move

New Delhi/Mumbai /Kolkata: A 135-year-old legacy comes to an end. Like in the case of the telegram, India Post has quietly discontinued the traditional money order service, which was an integral part of the department since 1880, facilitating pan-India door-delivery of funds to a payee from over 1,55,000 post offices.

People queue up at the money order counter of the Dadar post office.
People queue up at the money order counter of the Dadar post office. FILE PIC

In an era of instant communications, the traditional money transfer facility has made way for an electronic version, which was introduced in October 2008, thanks to the proliferation of mobile telephony and data communications in the country through the Internet — 18 months after they led to the demise of the telegram.

“Yes, the traditional money order as we know it has been discontinued,” said Shikha Mathur Kumar, deputy director general for finance with India Post based in the national capital. “What we have now are electronic money orders, or eMO, and instant money orders, or iMO, systems,” Kumar said. “Both these are much faster and simpler means to remit money.”
But for many, especially the senior citizens, the end of the traditional money system — which was withdrawn from April — did evoke a sense of nostalgia and, to an extent, some sadness as well.

“I would send money through money orders to my family in a village Madhya Pradesh,” recalled K Abdulhussein, a retired printing manager, now settled in Mumbai. “My folks back home would wait for it. In fact, the village postman was an important man. But what happens now,” he wondered. “People today have two bank accounts — a salary account and a personal account. Then there are mobile phones. Everyone has it. So the old system had to go.”

A similar sentiment was shared by RR Pandya, a retired 80-year-old banker in Mumbai, who also recalled having regularly sent funds through the traditional money order system to his parents in Gujarat.

“They were more comfortable dealing with the friendly neighbourhood postman. You had this option of sending money with messages. So, during marriages, we would send Rs 11, Rs 21, R.51 — along with congratulatory messages.”

For Kanai Lal Ghosh, a retired teacher in Kolkata, yesteryear memories and contemporary India’s reality present contrasting pictures. “I’d send funds only by way of money orders to my parents. Now my son does it instantly, from his mobile phone. I
presume old ways are redundant now.”

According to information provided by India Post, the money order system was transferred from the official treasury department to the Posts and Telegraph Department in 1880 to save people the ardour of long journeys they had to often undertake to pay revenues and rent.

This was when Rai Saligram Bahadur, the second guru of the Radhasoami faith, was the postmaster-general of the North-Western Provinces, based out of Allahabad. He was the first Indian to hold that post and money order was one of the many firsts he brought to the table. From a mere 283 such transactions at that time, it grew to 108 million by the time the service was in vogue for 100 years in 1980. The numbers dropped to around 95 million when the eMO and iMO schemes were launched and even further now, officials said.

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