News / Asia

India to Shut Down Telegram Service

An Indian woman, foreground left, waits to send a telegram at Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), a state-run telecom company in Bangalore, India, June 14, 2013.
An Indian woman, foreground left, waits to send a telegram at Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL), a state-run telecom company in Bangalore, India, June 14, 2013.
Anjana Pasricha
Indian authorities are shutting down the country’s 163-year-old telegram service in mid-July as customers choose more modern communication methods over the long-trusted standard. Although several countries continue with the telegram service, India is the last to use it on a large scale.

End of an era     
Manoj Sachthey, 63, read the news that the last telegram will be sent out on July 14th with nostalgia. “Taar” as it is called in India is inextricably linked with key moments of his life: the unexpected death of a young uncle; news that he was admitted to a prestigious masters in business administration program in 1971. 

He said the arrival of a telegram always raised heartbeats. “Receiving a telegram used to be a very major event in the household….one used to wonder, whether it is carrying good news, bad news,” he stated.  
For more than 130 years after being launched by India’s former British rulers in 1850, the telegram was the backbone of urgent communication. The terse messages announced momentous events: the death of a family member, the birth of a child, news of a soldier on the warfront.
It is believed to have played a role in the country’s history. Transmissions across telegraph wires helped the British suppress a popular revolt against their rule in 1857. Cutting telegraph wires later became a popular form of nationalist protest.
The service survived the advent of the landline telephone and email because of low telephone density and very limited access to the internet.
But the proliferation of mobile phones through the remotest corner of the country during the last decade finally made it obsolete.
At the height of the telegraph service in 1985, 60 million telegrams were punched. That number has shrunk to about 5,000 a day. Plummeting revenues forced India’s state-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited, which runs the service, to close down the service from mid-July.
No longer viable

Shamim Akhtar, the general manager of the telegraph service in New Delhi, said the service is no longer commercially viable with losses adding up to $250 million in the last seven years.  
“These days there are so many other modes of communication available to us, which are more economical, faster and reliable, and BSNL was incurring loss in the operation of this service. Since 2006 we have incurred a loss of 1500 crores [250 million dollars],” explained Akhtar.
As the service shrank, so did the staff. Once numbering more than 12,000 employees, there are now less than 1000. Most of them are men in their fifties, who have spent their entire working lives sending out countless missives of good and bad tidings.  
But the era of dispatching urgent news is over. During a recent visit to a once-buzzing telegraph office in New Delhi, time appears to hang still. A handful of people sit before computers typing out messages mostly sent by people who want an official record of a communication for legal or other purposes. One is from a city resident to the police commissioner complaining that a police station has failed to record his complaint.  Others come from lawyers, families of soldiers or government officials.    
 Subhash Chandra, 54, is dreading the day the last telegram will be dispatched, and he will be sent to another office. When he joined, messages were sent by Morse code. That was replaced by the teleprinter. Later they were transmitted by computer. Until the 1980’s, Chandra dispatched hundreds of messages every day.   
Chandra said leaving the telegram office will be like leaving his home. He said it will be difficult to adjust in another place after working here for 33 years. He will have to work with new people on a new assignment. Like the telegram, he said, he would prefer to simply retire.
Technology advances

But others like general manager Akhtar are preparing to keep pace with the times and the evolution of communication methods.  Having watched the rapid advances in technology over the last decade, Akhtar believes that anything is possible in the future.
“Day by day communication is taking new shape. One scientist has predicted that in the years to come, every man will have an antenna on his head and each newborn will be given a telephone number, and new exchanges will be set up in space,” Akhtar said.   
For now, Akhtar said state-owned BSNL has more modest ambitions to expand the mobile phone network and broadband internet services to every corner of India.

You May Like

Pakistan Among Developing Counties Hit Hard by Global Warming

Pakistani officials hope developed nations agree to scale back emissions, offer help in dealing with climate change

Video Speed, Social Media Shape Counterterrorism Probes

Speed is critical in effort to prevent subsequent attacks; demographics of extremists lend themselves to communicating, establishing profiles on digital platforms

Islamic State Oil Trade Seduces Friends, Foes Alike

Terrorist group rakes in up to $500 million a year in sales to customers such as Syrian government, US-supported rebels and Turkey

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
by: Kenny V from: Toulouse
July 08, 2013 11:16 AM
India isn't getting rid of telegrams just privatizing them. Google iTelegram.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigationsi
Katherine Gypson
December 01, 2015 10:06 PM
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Social Media Aids Counter-Terrorism Investigations

In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, officials carried out waves of raids and arrests to break up terror cells. As VOA's Katherine Gypson reports, social media can be a key tool for investigators.

Video Russia Marks World AIDS Day With Grim News

While HIV infection rates have steadied or even declined in many European countries, the caseload has grown rapidly in Russia, as VOA's Daniel Schearf reports from Moscow. Over half of the new infections were transmitted through injection drug use.

Video Pakistan Hit Hard by Global Warming

As world leaders meet in Paris to craft a new global agreement aimed at cutting climate-changing greenhouse-gas emissions, many developing countries are watching closely for the final results. While most developing nations contribute much less to global warming than developed countries, they often feel the effects to a disproportionate degree. As Saud Zafar reports from Karachi, one such nation is Pakistan. Aisha Khalid narrates his report.

Video With HIV, Can We Get to Zero?

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." The U.N. says new HIV infections have been reduced by 35 percent since 2000 and AIDS-related deaths are down by 42 percent since the peak in 2004. VOA's Carol Pearson takes a look at what it might take to actually have an AIDS-free generation.

Video Political Motives Seen Behind Cancelled Cambodian Water Festival

For the fourth time in the five years since more than 350 people were killed in a stampede at Cambodia’s annual water festival, authorities canceled the event this year. Officials blamed environmental reasons as the cause, but many see it as fallout from rising political tensions with a fresh wave of ruling party intimidation against the opposition. David Boyle and Kimlong Meng report from Phnom Penh.

Video African Circus Gives At-Risk Youth a 2nd Chance

Ethiopia hosted the first African Circus Arts Festival this past weekend with performers from seven different African countries. Most of the performers are youngsters coming form challenging backgrounds who say the circus gave them a second chance.

Video US Lawmakers Brace for End-of-Year Battles

U.S. lawmakers are returning to Washington for Congress’ final working weeks of the year. And, as VOA's Michael Bowman reports, a full slate of legislative business awaits them, from keeping the federal government open to resolving a battle with the White House over the admittance of Syrian refugees.

Video Taiwan Looks for Role in South China Sea Dispute

The Taiwanese government is one of several that claims territory in the hotly contested South China Sea, but Taipei has long been sidelined in the dispute, overshadowed by China. Now, as the Philippines challenges Beijing’s claims in an international court at The Hague, Taipei is looking to publicly assert its claims. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.

Video After Terrorist Attacks, Support for Refugees Fades

The terrorists who killed and injured almost 500 people around Paris this month are mostly French or Belgian nationals. But at least two apparently took advantage of Europe’s migrant crisis to sneak into the region. The discovery has hardened views about legitimate refugees, including those fleeing the same extremist violence that hit the French capital. Lisa Bryant has this report for VOA from the Paris suburb of Cergy-Pontoise

Video Syrian Refugees in US Express Concern for Those Left Behind

Syrian immigrants in the United States are concerned about the negative tide of public opinion and the politicians who want to block a U.S. plan to accept 10,000 Syrian refugees. Zlatica Hoke reports many Americans are fighting to dispel suspicions linking refugees to terrorists.

Video Thais Send Security Concerns Down the River

As Thailand takes in the annual Loy Krathong festival, many ponder the country’s future and security. Steve Sandford reports from Chiang Mai.

Video Islamic State Unfazed by Losses in Iraq, Syria

Progress in the U.S.-led effort to beat Islamic State on its home turf in Iraq and Syria has led some to speculate the terror group may be growing desperate. But counterterror officials say that is not the case, and warn the recent spate of terror attacks is merely part of the group’s evolution. VOA National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more.

VOA Blogs