NEW DELHI, 22 JUNE: The sharp dip from 6 crore telegrams in 1985 to a mere 5,000 in 2013 coupled with a revenue loss of Rs 135 crore last year prompted the Centre to shut down telegraph services. The last message through the century-and-a-half old communication medium will be sent on 14 July.
At least 10 states, including West Bengal, do not have any telegraph offices now. Ironically, the first telegram in India was successfully transmitted between Calcutta and Diamond Harbour, on the banks of the Hooghly river in the early 1850’s.
Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), the only service provider of telegraph services, said the medium has been ailing in India for the last decade and can no longer compete with e-mail, text messaging and smartphones of today&’s world.
Mr Shameem Akhtar, senior general manager (telegraph services) BSNL, said many other means of communication are available to people now that are economical and more reliable, while telegram services have become more expensive and less revenue generating.
“Once telegram services were considered the best medium of communication. The telegram industry was not always so bleak; at its peak in 1985, around six crore telegrams were exchanged across 45,000 offices. However, now the traffic has reduced to 5,000 only. Today, there are only 75 offices across the country, employing less than 1,000 people, down from 12,500 telegraph employees in better years,” Mr Akhtar told The Statesman.
Most importantly, he said, last year telegram services incurred a loss of Rs 135 crore and from 2006-2013 a total loss of Rs 1,500 crore has been reported. The expenses on telegram services are much higher than the revenue it generates today, Mr Akhtar said.
Officials believe that the demise of this old communication medium is not only because it failed to keep pace with the times but due to the rapid advancement of other mediums of communication. Today, most telegraph offices themselves are using computers instead of the telegraph machines that were seen in old Hollywood and Bollywood movies. “There has been a quantum jump in technology and every man has a cell phone in his hand. The demise of telegram services is also because the young generation is not bothered,” said a staff member at the Eastern Court office in Delhi.
He said around 90 per cent of the youth today do not know what a telegram is and how a message is delivered through the telegraph.
There are only five telegraph offices in Delhi ~ Eastern Court at Janpath, Kashmiri Gate, Janakpuri, Delhi Cantt and Supreme Court. According to officials, there are several states, including Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Rajasthan and West Bengal, which do not have any telegraph offices.
Mr Akhtar said West Bengal has some consumer centres where telegraph messages can be delivered.
The highest number of telegraph offices are in Punjab (13) followed by Bihar (11), Jharkhand (11), Jammu and Kashmir (10), Odisha (9) and Delhi (5). There are some other states which have 1-3 telegraph offices. Interestingly, the total number of telegram offices across the country has decreased to 75.
Earlier, the charges for using telegram services were very cheap. A telegram carrying 10 words cost only Rs 3.50 and Rs 0.50 for per additional word. However, the charges were revised in 2009 and since then a telegram with 30 words costs Rs 25, and one rupee for every additional word. Interestingly, it still continues to cost only Rs 5 for sending death telegram with 30 words, and one rupee extra per additional word.
While the world’s first ever telegram was sent by Samuel Morse in Washington in 1844, its use in India was pioneered by William O’Shaughnessy, a surgeon and inventor in the early 1850’s.
Mr Shyam Lal Chhokar, deputy manager telegraph service, explained the journey of telegram services and how it developed from Morse Code to today&’s web-based telegraph messaging system. “Today we use computers and web-based telegraph messaging systems instead of old telegraphs. In the past telegram services had become a very important medium of communication. By 1856, the telegraph network stretched 4,000 miles across the British Raj, connecting the strategically vital cities of Calcutta, Agra, Bombay, Peshawar, and Madras,” he said, adding that telegrams were also the key in aiding the British to defeat the 1857 revolt.
“History shows that the telegram services helped the British violently subdue the Indian Rebellion of 1857, as they had received messages in Delhi prior to the rebels marching from Meerut during the revolution,” Mr Chhokar said.
He said when the Samajwadi Party Member of Parliament and former “bandit queen” Phoolan Devi was shot dead in the Capital in July 2001, her death telegram along with a gory photo were widely circulated by telegram service centres across the country.
Officials said earlier most government offices including the railways, military, banks, etc., were fully dependent on telegram services for communication but now the internet has changed the situation. They said even after the announcement that services were being closed by the middle of next month, there is no rush of people using the services. The general manager, telecom services, said the telegraph staff will be re-deployed in other offices.