Curtains for 163-year-old telegram service

Curtains for 163-year-old telegram service

The 163-year-old telegram service in the country - the harbinger of good and bad news for generations of Indians - is dead.

Once the fastest means of communication for millions of people, the humble telegram was today buried without any requiem but for the promise of preserving the last telegram as a museum piece.

A large people, many of them youngsters and first timers, turned up at four telegraph centres in the Capital which have almost been forgotten in recent years to send a message to their loved ones on the last day of the service.

"This is the first time I am sending a telegram. It is for my 96-year-old grandfather who lives in a village near Trichy," Anand Sathiyaseelan, a lawyer by profession, said.

A manager in a real estate firm Vikas Arvind said he was sending greetings to his parents in Bareilly.

"This I hope they will keep it as a memorabilia," Arvind said.

"Hope all is well" and "An iconic service comes to an end" were among the messages sent today.

Started in 1850 on an experimental basis between Koklata and Diamond Harbour, it was opened for use by the British East India Company the following year. In 1854, the service was made available to the public.

It was such an important mode of communication in those days that revolutionaries fighting for the country's independence used to cut the telegram lines to stop the British from communicating.

Though started as a Morse code service, the telegram service evolved gradually with the use of computers. At the time of its death, it had become a web based telegraph mailing service (WBTMS) which used emails to instantly convey message to the other end.

Nudged out by technology --- SMS, emails, mobile phones -- the iconic service gradually faded into oblivion with less and less people taking recourse to it.

ld timers recall that receiving a telegram would be an event itself and the messages were normally opened with a sense of trepidation as people feared for the welfare of their near and dear ones.

For jawans and armed forces seeking leave or waiting for transfer or joining reports, it was a quick and handy mode of communication.

Lawyers vouched for the telegrams as they were registered under the Indian Evidence Act and known for their credibility when presented in court.

Bollywood was not to be left behind and immortalised the service with many sudden turns in films being announced by the advent of the 'taar'.

Pockets of rural India still use the service but with the advent of technology and newer means of communication, the telegram found itself edged out.

"The service will not be available from Monday," BSNL CMD R K Upadhyay told PTI.
State-run telecom firm BSNL had decided to discontinue telegrams following a huge shortfall in revenue. The service generated about Rs 75 lakh annually, compared with the cost of over Rs 100 crore to run and manage it.

Telecom and IT Minister Kapil Sibal had said last month that "we will bid it a very warm farewell and may be the last telegram sent should be a museum piece. That's the way in which we can bid it a warm farewell."

There are about 75 telegram centres in the country, with less than 1,000 employees to manage them. BSNL will absorb these employees and deploy them to manage mobile services, landline telephony and broadband services.

Faced with declining revenue, the government had revised telegram charges in May 2011, after a gap of 60 years. Charges for inland telegram services were hiked to Rs 27 per 50 words.

Within a short time of BSNL handling telegram services in 1990s, the PSU had a rift with the Department of Posts following which telegrams were accepted as phonograms from various villages and other centres from telephone consumers.

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