Come July 15, one of India’s oldest communication services — the telegram — will become history. Financial constraints have forced the Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd to wind up the telegraphic service, which would be remembered mainly as a historically inexpensive but relatively quick method of sending alerts related to births, deaths and emergency situations.

“The growing use of mobile phones and Internet has led to steep decline in the usage of the telegraphic service…it [the telegram] has become financially unviable. After stopping telegram service for overseas communication earlier this year, we have now decided to discontinue it for the domestic market from July 15. The BSNL Board has already approved it. Final clearance is now being sought from the Department of Telecommunications,” a senior BSNL official told The Hindu.

In India, the first telegraph message was transmitted live through electrical signals between Calcutta (now Kolkata) and Diamond Harbour, a distance of about 50 km, on November 5, 1850; and the service was opened for the general public in February 1855.

Over the years, the BSNL made several technical upgrades in the telegraph service, with the latest being the introduction of a web-based messaging system in 2010. However, growing Internet penetration and cheaper mobile phones in the last decade have kept people away from the 182 telegraph offices across the country.

“In May 2011, we revised telegram charges after six decades to arrest declining revenues…but it did not work. It is estimated that the BSNL is suffering an annual loss of Rs. 300 - 400 crore from its telegraph service alone. As it has virtually become redundant, it is prudent to shut it down. However, there will be no job cuts and all those working in telegraph offices will perform other jobs related to telephone and Internet services,” the official added.

The BSNL’s financial performance in recent years has been alarming. From a profit of Rs. 575 crore in 2008-09, the telecom giant has been reporting massive losses for the last three years. In 2012-13, its losses stood at a staggering Rs. 8,198 crore.

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