Sunday, September 20, 2009

150 years of Indian Telecommunication

Like the Ocean that is made of tiny drops, the P&T had a slow and uneasy start.  The sprawling Posts and Telegraphs Department, for instance, occupied a small corner of the public works department, in 1851.  Dr. William O’Shaughnessy who pioneered telegraph and telephone in India belonged to the Public Works Department all through the experimental stage.  A  regular, separate department was opened around 1854 when telegraph facilities were thrown open to the public. 
The Telegraph Department during 1854-57 comprised a Superintendent of Telegraphs, with three Deputy Superintendents at Bombay, Madras and Pegu in Burma. There were Inspectors at Indore, Agra, Kanpur and Banaras and an operating and maintenance staff. Dr. O'Shaughnessy was the first Superintendent of Electric Telegraphs in India and later became the first Director General. The Indo-European Telegraph Department, which later came to be known as the Overseas Communications, was administered by a Director-in-Chief whose headquarters was in London. On the 15th February, 1888, it was merged with the Director-General of the Indian Telegraph Department. It was decided that the administrationFirst Officer of Indian Telegraph reports of the two departments, Indian Telegraph and the Indo-European Department, should be separated so  as to show how the finances of the country were affected by each unit.   The operations of the two separate services, Post Office and Telegraph Department developed side by side. On the eve of World War I, in 1914, the next big administrative change came. The Postal Department and the Telegraph Department were amalgamated under a single Director-General. The process had started in 1912, but it was completed in 1914. During 1923-24, 152 questions relating to the Department were asked and answered in the Indian Legislative Assembly. Posts and Telegraphs has always evoked a great deal of interest from law maker.
A major reorganisation of the department took place in April, 1925. The accounts of the Indian Posts and Telegraphs were reconstituted to examine the true fiscal profile of the department. The attempt was to find out the extent to which the department was imposing a burden on the taxpayers or bringing in revenue to the Exchequer, how far each of the four constituent branches of the department, the postal, telegraph, telephone and wireless were contributing towards this result. It was further examined whether the rates charged from the public for the various services were inadequate or excessive.The Posts and Telegraphs, like all public and private undertakings, was a victim of the universal financial and economic depression which crashed on the world in 1930. During 1931, numerous economy measures had to be introduced according to the advice of the Posts and Telegraphs Sub-Committee to the Retrenchment Committee presided over by Sir Cowasjee Jehangir Jr. Naturally, the adoption of the various measures of retrenchment could not but have an adverse effect on the emoluments and interests of the personnel of the Department.
150 years old telephone exchange bldg. in Mount Abu, RajasthanFrom the beginning, P&T set up was run on welfare lines. Profit was not the motto. The annual report of the department for 1931 said "It is the accepted policy of the Government that the department should be so administered that there should be neither any substantial profit nor any substantial loss on its working under normal conditions. As has already been indicated, the achievement of this ideal has not proved possible owing mainly to the exceptional economic and trade conditions of recent years. One of the main contributory causes was the revision and improvement of pay of the great bulk of the employees of the department in recent years. This was undertaken with the approval of and indeed under pressure by the Legislative Assembly. While the department is commonly spoken of as a 'commercial' one and though as far as possible it is guided by the commercial considerations in the regulation of its business, it must be realised that in many directions it is debarred from observing strict business principles. Many of the purposes which it is required to serve are unremunerative and notably, in matters relating to the employment and control of staff, the department is bound by a large volume of statutory and other rules, doubtless necessary for the regulation of a public service, but which in the aggregate involve many restrictions of a kind unknown to private commercial concerns.

After the implementation of the Federal Financial Integration Scheme of 1st April, 1950, the administration of the entire network of telegraph and telephone systems of the nation, including those that previously existing in the former princely states became a major adventure. In 1950 the number of Telephone Exchanges absorbed from princely states was 196. These systems which were working with different degrees of efficiency could fit into the general telecommunication network. The installed capacity of these 196 exchanges was 13,362 lines with 11,296 working connections. Soon after the absorption an attempt was made to improve their technical efficiency by replacing obsolete and unserviceable equipment and lending well-qualified and experienced staff. Simultaneously, isolated exchanges were integrated with the general pool. The more complicated task was acquisition of the staff. Their final absorption into the different cadres of service in Posts and Tele
graphs was a major step.

   Till 31st December, 1984, the postal, telegraph and telephone services were managed by the Posts and Telegraphs Department. In January 1985, two separate Departments for the Posts and the Telecommunications were created. The accounts of the department, initially, were maintained by the Accountant General of the P&T. However, by April 1972, the telecommunications accounts were separated. Simultaneously the department also started preparing the balance sheet annually. With the takeover of the accounts from the audit and delegation of larger financial powers to the field units, internal Financial Advisers were posted to all the circles and units.
The Telecommunication Board consisted of the Secretary Telecommunications, who was the Chairman with Member(Finance), Member (Operations), Member (Development), Member (Personnel) and Member (Technology).  The Telecom Commission was constituted in 1989.  The Commission has the DoT Secretary as its Chairman with Member (Services), Member(Technology) and Member (Finance) as its full time members.  The Secretary (Finance), Secretary (DoE), Secretary (Industries) and Secretary (Planning Commission) are part time members of the Commission. The Department in 1986 reorganised the Telecommunication Circles with the Secondary Switching Areas as basic units.  This was implemented in a phased manner.  Bombay and Delhi Telephones were separated to create the new entity called Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Ltd.(MTNL).
On 1st October 2000, Department created BSNL, a new entity to operate services in different parts of the country as a public sector unit.
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