The telegram is not dead. And contrary to popular belief, poor villagers across India are not the biggest users of telegram services. About 60 per cent of telegrams every year are received and sent by banks and business users. Telegram greetings come third in the list.
But if in the hoary past telegrams were considered the harbingers of bad news, today it is the government-owned Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (BSNL) that is responsible for Indian telegraph services, which is facing a tragedy. For every telegram sent out by someone to any part of the country, BSNL loses about Rs 35.
“About 10 crore telegrams are delivered every year in India. The total loss to the company is about Rs 350 crore per annum,” said S.D. Saxena, director (finance) of the BSNL. “We have sought subsidy from the Universal Service Obligation fund for telegraph services. We have not yet received any response,” said Kuldeep Goyal, chairman and managing director of BSNL.
The problem is that tariffs have not been revised in the last 60 years for some categories of telegrams. This is due to the continued misconception that the telegram is still a common man’s service. But government departments continue to use the telegram since its receipts are admissible as proof in courts and as official documents.
On an average, one telegram costs about Rs 40. BSNL charges Rs 3.50 for a telegram of 10 words or less. Charges for additional words are 50 paise per word. Press telegrams cost even less — 75 paise for 50 words or less.
For each telegram, BSNL gets only Rs 5 in its kitty.
Telegram traffic has fallen drastically since 1995. With telecom networks penetrating in rural areas, it is set to dip even further. Which, ironically, should reduce BSNL’s losses.