The 163-year old telegram service in the country – the harbinger of good and bad news for generations of Indians is now 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. Nudged out by technology like SMS, emails, instant messaging apps and rise of smartphones, have made the iconic service gradually faded into oblivion, with less and less people taking recourse to it.

Started in 1850 on an experimental basis between Kolkata 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.
Old 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. Also, 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’ (Hindi term for Telegram).
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 started at 8 am and closed by 9 pm. It would not be available from Monday, July 14, 2013. There were about 75 telegram centres in the country, with less than 1000 employees to manage them. BSNL said that it would absorb these employees and deploy them to manage mobile services, landline telephony and broadband services.
The union government had said that it had taken a right decision to put an end to the Telegraph System. As most modern means of instant communication systems are present, naturally the old telegraphic system has become redundant one and the nation cannot waste the financial resources for it for further maintenance without being utilized. It mainly rendered great services to the nation and like the radio, Coal Railway Engines and so on.
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 that – “We will bid it a very warm farewell and maybe the last telegram sent should be a museum piece.”
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 public sector unit had a rift with the Department of Posts, following which telegrams were accepted as phonograms from various villages and other centres from telephone consumers. The prices are given below for each type of telegrams:-
  • General telegrams – Rs. 25 up to 30 words plus 12.36% tax, thereafter Re. 1 per word.
  • Death telegrams – Rs. 5 up to 30 words, thereafter Re. 1 per word.
 There are four types of telegraphs mainly used:-
  1. Formatted Terminal
  2. Electronic Keyboard
  3. Store Forward Telegraph
  4. Store Forward Messaging System

India telegraph service

The overseas telegram was stopped earlier this year. Now it has made its final bow in the city and the country both from where it originated. Mostly, the senders who used the telegram service even when other modes of communication were handy were government agencies, courts and police authority who wanted to keep the message on record. Normally, there is a system to store the message that is sent and it can be produced in a court as evidence.

However, some people are not amused by this news. “The decision to close the telegraph department is appalling. There are several villages, which do not have transportation, electricity and telephone facilities and villagers depend on telegrams and letters. The government should instead modernise the telegraph service by using advanced technology, instead of shutting it down,” said a Computer Science engineering student T.J. Sumanjali of Acharya Nagarjuna University Engineering College in Vijayawada, Andhra Pradesh.