Central station telegraph office faces closure threat

GLOOMY FUTURE: A BSNL official says the telegraph office at the Central Railway Station is unviable at the proposed rentals.   | Photo Credit: — Photo: M. Karunakaran

M. Dinesh Varma and S. Vydhianathan

CHENNAI: The future of the telegraph office at Chennai Central railway station lies in the balance, following a spat between BSNL Chennai Telephones and the Railways over rental.

The difference of opinion also extends to whether the telegraph office is functioning as a public utility or as a commercial outlet.

The Railways is demanding rent at commercial rates for roughly 650 sqft while Chennai Telephones argues for a concessional rent as the telegraph and public call office was a convenience for the travelling public.

BSNL sources said the department could ill afford commercial rates proposed by Railways and had no option but to close down the facility.

The BSNL, which approached Railways some time ago with a proposal to construct an additional storey as part of establishing a full-fledged Customer Service Centre (CSC) was told to pay monthly rent at the rate of Rs. 58 per sq ft for the 650-sq ft space and also to cough up nearly Rs. 30 lakh as arrears.

A railway official said the department had made it clear at a recent coordination meeting that it was not empowered to extend concessions. The stated position of the Railways is that the public call-cum-telegraph office is a commercial activity that cannot be exempt from commercial rentals.

It also suggested that the Telecom Department route the appeal for concession to the Railways Ministry through the Communications Ministry. A BSNL official said the telegraph office would become totally unviable at the proposed rentals. Already put to disadvantage by the burgeoning class of mobile phone-wielding travellers, the telegraph office also has to compete with a cluster of nearly 50 private telephone booths.

“On the probability count, the chances of a traveller dropping in to despatch a telegram is too low to even count as a revenue model,” the official said. Chances are even slimmer of the general public preferring to use the telegraph facility at the central station.

Union’s grouse

Meanwhile, the BSNL Employees’ Union has condemned the reported move to close down the telegraph office and accused the management of going back on its assurance to upgrade it as a Customer Service Centre (CSC).