The telegram will become history from July 15, but many who depend on that service are left wondering what they will do for an alternative means of communication.
While individuals have enough modern options, telegrams remain an indispensable service for lawyers, litigants, armed forces and the police.
Although court notices and communications are sent by speed post and fax, urgent interim orders are normally directed to be communicated telegraphically at the parties’ cost. Such orders may not be communicated with the same urgency any more.
In civil cases, orders relating to eviction or staying of encroachment and directions for police protection are communicated by telegraph, while its use is widespread in matters relating to habeas corpus and bail petitions.
“Litigants will suffer irreparably. When telegram services are not available, the entire court order should be communicated through fax. Because of this requirement, the operative portion of any court order cannot be communicated hereafter. Consequently, litigants who get orders in their favour cannot get them implemented immediately. Justice may be defeated,” says M. Radhakrishnan, an advocate.
“Communication of court order by a telegram can be said to be a fundamental right under Article 21 of the Constitution, as it relates to speedy justice. Rules relating to communication of orders do not permit the operative portion of an order to be sent by fax,” adds Mr. Radhakrishnan.
Telegrams play a vital role in instances of illegal custody, preventive detention and human rights violations. Immediately after obtaining bail from a court, lawyers send the order copy to the prison authorities through telegram to enable the release of their clients immediately.
M. Maharajan, Additional Public Prosecutor, said: “If a person from Madurai is arrested in Chennai, his family must be informed by the police immediately, as per the Supreme Court’s guidelines. No other option except telegram is accepted. We have to furnish a copy of telegram or [booking] receipt.”
“If somebody sends a telegram, a certified copy will be given along with the receipt. Such documents can be marked as evidence in cases related to illegal detention or preventive detention. There are instances of detenus being released based on a telegram,” says R. Azhagumani, an advocate in Madurai.
Armed forces personnel in high altitude or border areas, too, depend still on telegrams.
M.K. Sikdar, Chief Editor of the Armed Forces Law Journal, points out that when a soldier on leave wishes to extend his leave for an emergency, he has to send a telegram to his camp, which may be situated in a remote area.
“Telephone messages to extend leave are not accepted, and sending a letter by post may take a long time to reach. Hence, there is a danger of his being treated as a deserter.”