When V. Karuppiah thought about his retirement next month, little did he realise that the department he has served for 30 years would also bid farewell along with him. With the death knell to be sounded for telegraph services on July 15, senior citizens are taking a nostalgic trip about the telegrams they sent.
“After the announcement, we have one or two people dropping in every day just to send a last telegram,” says Suresh Babu, who has been booking telegrams for 15 years. Before him, his father Kathiravel performed the same job.
Does anyone use the telegram these days, when text messages and e-mail can convey messages in less than a second? Employees at telegraph offices tell a different, albeit insightful tale. The Central Telegraph Office, which is now a customer care centre at Cantonment, sends and receives anywhere between 50 to 100 messages a day, says K. Raja, chief telegraph officer. “Wedding greetings and personal telegrams are rare, but most telegrams pertain to legal matters.”
But telegraph services today are not just limited to matters pertaining to litigations, says Vijayalakshmi, another chief telegraph officer. “Banks send telegrams intimating vehicle seizures in case of non-repayment of loans. A telegram always alerts people and spurs them to action.”
Insurance companies and even city corporation use the telegraph services occasionally to remind citizens to pay taxes on time or premium, says B. Ramamoorthy, section supervisor. “We have colleges sending bulk telegrams to parents if fees are not paid on time.”
In legal matters, be it sending a notice or court order or informing family of a person who has been arrested, the telegraph is the essential tool of communication, besides being a document of proof. “A telegram is considered as constructive notice in a court case as it is a proof of delivery,” says Jayanthi Rani, advocate. “Sending an e-mail or sms requires both sender and receiver to possess the gadget. But a telegram delivered by the public sector agency can reach anyone in any remote corner.”
Consumer activists, and lawyers, are inclined to fight to keep the century-and- a-half service alive. It is the illiterate and those in remote areas who are bound to suffer, says M. Sekaran, president, Federation of Consumer and Service Organisations.
The organisation has appealed to the Union Minister of Telecommunications to reconsider the decision to close telegraph services. In a representation, he says the BSNL, to whom telegraph services were handed over in 1990, had increased the telegraphic charges without justification from Rs. 3.50 to Rs. 27.50. The increase in cost and absence of delivery staff has led to the quandary.
Although many developed countries had done away with the telegram, they had ensured that modern means of communication had maximum reach, says P. Soundararajan, president, Tiruchi Philatelists’ Association. “Without ensuring such universal access, shutting down the service is a big blow.”
The Tiruchirapalli central telegraph office is one of the oldest telegraph offices in the South, according to the Tiruchi district gazetteer. It was established during the British rule in June 1882 at Tiruchi Fort under the charge of a telegraph master. The telegraph office was moved to a building in Cantonment occupied by the post office on January 31, 1886. Later, several local post offices in Srirangam, Teppakulam, and Tennur provided the facility.