The Indian Telegraph Act was introduced by the Central Government to establish telegraph lines on private as well as public property. India was ruled by Britishers when this Act was passed in 1883. Developed in the 1830s and 1840s by Samuel Morse and other inventors, the invention of the Telegraph revolutionised long-distance communication. Electrical signals were transmitted over a wire laid between stations. Two developments in the field of electricity opened the gates for the production of the electric telegraph, one was the invention of the battery by the Italian physicist Alessandro Volta, and the second was the demonstration of the connection between electricity and magnetism by Danish physicist Hans Christian Oersted.
Table of Contents
Definitions Under the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885
- Telegraph -Telegraph is defined as any appliance, instrument, apparatus, or material that is capable of transmitting and receiving signs, signals, any kind of writing, images, and sounds using electromagnetic emissions, Radio waves, or Hertzian waves, or through galvanic, electric, or magnetic means.
- Telegraph Officer – Any person who is recruited permanently or temporarily to oversee the maintenance of a telegraph installed by the Central Government or by a person licensed under this Act.
- Message – Any communication that has to be sent by the telegraph or given to a telegraph officer so that he could send it to the required location through the telegraph.
- Telegraph Line – Wires that are used for assisting the telegraph. These wires may be cast, coated, or maybe a tube or pipe enclosing the same. They provide fixation and insulation to the wires.
- Post – Includes any structure that aspires to carry, suspend, or support a telegraph line facility, including a pole, tower, stay, strut, cabinet, pillar, or anything above the ground that would support establishing a telegraph line connection.
- Telegraph Authority – This includes the Director General of Posts and Telegraphs and also the officers appointed by him to perform the functions of the telegraph authority under this Act.
- Local Authority – This authority includes district-level bodies, such as municipal committees, district boards, body of port commissioner, or other bodies that are incorporated by the Central Government or the State Government to control or manage any municipal or local fund.
Privileges and Powers of the Government
Part II of the Telegraph Act, 1885, deals with the various types of power and privileges of the Government.
Power to grant licences
Section 4 of the Indian Telegraph Act authorises the government under this section to grant licence to establish, maintain, or work a telegram.
- In India, the Central Government has the exclusive privilege to establish, maintain, and work the telegraphs provided that proper licence is granted by the Central Government, which considers it to be fit to establish, maintain, or work a telegraph within any part of India.
The Central Government through the notification in the Official Gazette may introduce restrictions and conditions because it is fit for the establishment, maintenance, and working of those telegraph lines that are associated with:
- Aircraft (within or above India or Indian Territorial waters), ships (within the Indian territorial waters)
- Wireless telegraph lines within any part of India
- The Central Government has the authority to delegate any of its power to telegraph authority by notification in the Official Gazette.
Power to take possession of licensed telegraphs and order of interception of messages
Section 5 of the Indian Telegraph Act, also known as the “wire-tapping clause,” authorises the government to take possession of any licensed telegraphs for public safety, or in other emergency circumstances.
- In certain situations, such as public emergency, or public safety, the Central Government, or a State Government, or any officer appointed on behalf of them can take temporary possession of telegraph lines maintained, established, or worked by any person licensed under this Act. The control will be for as long as the emergency exists or the concern of public safety requires it to take such actions.
- The Central Government or the State Government can also take over the telegraph established for ensuring the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the national borders, the maintenance of friendly relations with the foreign states, to prevent the occurrence of an offence.
However, the press accredited to the Central Government or a State Government that has the responsibility to publish messages in India shall not be detained or intercepted, unless it is mentioned under this subsection to prohibit the same.
Power to establish telegraph on the land of railway company
- Section 6 of the Indian Telegraph Act states that if the Central Government feels the necessity to install a telegraph on land or any part of the land of a Railway Company, then it is the responsibility of the company to issue the permission and provide reasonable facilities for the working of the telegraph system.
- Section 6A deals with the rates for transmitting messages outside India. The Central Government would occasionally notify the rates and other conditions and restrictions subject to which the messages shall be transmitted to any nation outside India.
The Government shall consider the rates after considering various factors, such as
- The rates that are prevailing at that time in India for the transmission of messages outside India.
- The rate of foreign exchange that is functional between the two nations.
- The rates that are prevailing at that time in India for the transmission of messages within India.
- As per Section 22 of the Indian Telegraph Act, if a Railway Company, or an officer of a Railway Company, refuses to comply with the provisions of Section 6, he/she shall be punished with a fine which may extend to Rs 1000, charged for every day of the refusal, neglect, or non-compliance.
Power to make rules for the conduct of telegraphs
Section 7 of the Indian Telegraph Act authorises The Central Government to make rules regarding the maintenance, establishment, and working of telegraphs from time to time by notifying the Official Gazette. The government can make rules for all telegraphs and also for the people licensed under this Act. The rules can be regarding various matters, such as:
- Rates, restrictions, and conditions subjected to which the messages should be transmitted within the Indian borders.
- Precautions that must be taken in matters of unauthorised interception of messages or disclosure of important messages.
- Conditions and restrictions formulated for the telegraph line, for its maintenance, establishment, and repair. In other cases, such as if it is shifted, withdrawn, or disconnected.
- The fees that are to be charged for the search of telegrams or other documents that are in the custody of any telegraph officer.
- It lays down the period of time with conditions subject to which telegrams or other documents that are in the custody of telegraph officers shall be preserved.
- The funds spent on establishing, maintaining, repairing, transferring, or shifting any telegraph line, appliance, or apparatus. The payments to the operators operating such lines, apparatus, or appliances.
- Any matter necessary for the proper and efficient conduct of all the telegraphs under this Act.
Punishment for the breach of the rules
- If a licensed officer breaches the rules specified under this Act, then he/she shall be liable to pay Rs 1000, and in case of a continuing breach, he/she shall be liable to pay Rs 200 every day for the period of the breach or any part of which the breach continues.
- If the breach is performed by a servant of the licensed officer, then he/she shall pay one-fourth of the specified amounts.
Power to Place Telegraph Lines and Posts
Section 10 of the Telegraph Act authorises the telegraph authority to place and maintain a telegraph line from time to time on any immovable property. However, only the possession of land can be considered for installing and maintaining telegraph lines and posts. The telegraph authority pays the appropriate compensation to the people for their land used to install telegraph posts.
Section 11 of the Telegraph Act authorises the telegraph authority to enter into the premises with telegraphs installed to examine, repair, alter or remove any telegraph line or post.
Removal of Trees for Better Communication
Section 18(1) states that if a tree is found to be obstructing a telegraph line, or is likely to disturb the telegraphic communication, then it can be removed after an order of removal is passed by a Magistrate of the first or second class, on an application made by the telegraph authority. This provision is applicable to all types of properties.
Section 18(2) details the compensation presented to the owner of such trees. Magistrate shall award appropriate compensation to the person to whom the tree belonged before the telegraph line replaced it.
Exercise of Legal Rights on a Telegraphic Property
Section 19A lays down procedures to be followed before interrupting or damaging a telegraphic line or post duly placed in accordance with the provisions of this Act.
Section 19A(1) – Any person who desires to exercise his/her legal rights on a property in a manner that is likely to cause damage to a telegraphic post or line, or interrupt or interfere with telegraphic communication, shall provide a notice in writing, a month before his intended actions to the telegraphic authority or any other telegraph officer who is empowered on his/her behalf.
Section 19A(2) – Any person who does not comply with sub-section (1) of 19A can be ordered by a Magistrate of the first class or second class to abstain from dealing with such property for a period not exceeding 1 month from the date of his order.
Section 19A(3) – If a person deals with such properties with a bona fide intention to protect himself or others from an imminent danger, he/she shall be considered to have duly in accordance with the provisions of Section 19A, provided he/she gives notice regarding the same in any circumstances possible, or gives notice afterwards to the authority regarding the actual exercise of such right, as it was impossible to provide notice without the incurrence of the imminent danger.
Under Section 19A, the notice should always be provided to the telegraph authority or officer empowered to receive a notice.
Arbitration of Disputes
- Section 7B of the Indian Telegraph Act states that if any dispute arises between the telegraph authority and the person benefiting from the telegraph services concerning any telegraph line, appliance, or apparatus, then the dispute would be determined by arbitration.
- An arbitrator shall be appointed by the Central Government either specifically for the determination of that particular dispute or for the determination of disputes in general.
- The judgement given on a dispute by the arbitrator would be the final judgement and shall not be questioned in any court of law.
- Section 20 – Deals with the establishment, functioning, and maintenance of an unauthorised telegraph.
- If any person is found to be regulating the functions of a telegraph that is installed within India in contravention of Section 4 of the Indian Telegraph Act, then he shall be punished with imprisonment that may extend up to 3 years, or a fine or with both. In some cases, a fine of Rs 1000 may be levied.
- As per the Code of Criminal Procedure, 1898, the offences committed regarding a wireless telegraph shall be bailable and non-cognisable.
- When a person is convicted under this section, the telegraph regarding which the offence has been committed shall be forfeited to the Government.
- Section 20A deals with the breach done by a licence holder. This breach contravenes any condition under Section 4 of the Act. The person committing such offence can be punished with a fine which may extend to Rs 1000, and with a further fine which may extend to Rs 500 for every week in case of continuance of breach of the conditions.
- Section 21 – States that any person who knows or has reason to believe that the use of a certain telegraph is unauthorised and sends, receives, or delivers the messages transmitted through it, shall be held liable to pay a fine, which may extend to Rs 50.
- Section 23 – Trespass into telegraph office. If any person:
- Enters into the signal room of the Government’s telegraph office or the office of a person licensed under this Act without any permission of the competent authority
- Enters into the fenced boundary of a telegraph office, contravening the rules or any notice not to do so
- Refuses to exit from such room even after being requested by any officer or servant employed therein
- Willingly creates disturbance in the activities performed by any officer or servants employed. Such a person is held liable to pay a fine which may extend to Rs 500.
- Section 24 states that any person who commits any act mentioned in Section 23 to unlawfully gather the contents of any message may be punished under Section 23 and could be imprisoned for a term that may extend to 1 year.
- Section 25 – States that if a person intentionally obstructs the transmission of the message, intercepts, or acquaints himself/herself with the contents of any message, or commits mischief, damages, or tampers any part of the machinery associated with the telegraph shall be punished with imprisonment for a period of 3 years, or with fine or with both.
- Section 26 – If any telegraph officer or any other officer appointed to carry out the official duties connected to the telegraph office:
- Willingly or secretly alters the content of any message transmitted for further delivery or
- Willingly disobeys his/her duty to detain, intercept, or omit any message or disclose the content of any message while working under the order of the Central Government or a State Government
- Divulges any sensitive data received through telegraphic signals to any person who is not authorised to access it shall be punished with imprisonment for a term up to 3 years, or with fine, or with both.
- Section 27 – If a telegraph officer or any licensed officer under this act deliberately transmits any message on which the charge prescribed by the Central Government has not been paid, then such acts of defrauding the Government are punishable with imprisonment that may extend up to 3 years, or with fine, or with both.
- Section 28 -Describes the liabilities imposed on a telegraph officer or any officer bestowed with official duties for the misconduct performed at the telegraph office. This includes acts of drunkenness and carelessness, which impedes or delays correct transmission of messages. This includes the act of loitering the messages sent for further delivery. Such acts are penalised with imprisonment for 3 months, or with a fine which may extend to Rs 100, or with both.
- Section 29 A – If any unauthorised person issues any statement or document that in the general course of nature is to be believed that the document has been issued by the authority of, the Director-General of Posts and Telegraphs or; fraudulently uses or imitates the stamp marks of any Telegraph Office under the Director General of Posts and Telegraph, such a person shall be punished with a fine extending to Rs 50.
- Section 30 – If any person or a telegraph officer fraudulently keeps hold of, or willingly secretes, or makes away, or detains any message or part of any message important to be delivered ahead to some other person, then such offence shall be punishable with imprisonment for a term up to 2 years, or with fine, or with both.
Part V, Section 33 of the Indian Telegraph Act, 1885, puts down the supplemental provisions regarding the employment of additional police forces to the telegraphic areas frequently prone to malicious practices or wrongful damages.
- The State Government has the power to deploy additional police forces to places where an act is imminent to cause wrongful damage to any telegraph repeatedly and is being maliciously committed. The officers are deployed at such locations as long as necessary.
- The State government in writing shall specify the limits of such locations of danger.
- The cost of the additional police force is paid in appropriate proportions and divided among the inhabitants of that place. The District Magistrate shall assess the proportion in which inhabitants pay the cost.
People’s Union for Civil Liberties versus Union Of India
This case laid down the procedures and guidelines for lawful interception of telephone records. The Supreme Court held that telephone tapping is an absolute intrusion into one’s privacy. However, in some cases, wiretapping provisions can be subject to lawful interception. The court expressed its concern regarding the growing sophistication of communication technology.
Century Rayon Limited versus IVP Limited and Others
The bench dealt with the damages caused to people due to the instalment of telegraph lines on their land. However, the authority shall be held responsible to pay full compensation to all persons who had their stake and sustained damages. No person should bear loss due to the establishment of the telegraphic posts.
Indian Telegraph Act holds a significant place in India’s legal framework because it empowers the government to establish telegraph infrastructure on both private and public properties. This Act has undergone several amendments to keep pace with the rapid advancements in communication technologies.
Comprising six distinct parts, the Act encompasses fundamental definitions, the government’s exclusive privilege in telegraphy, licensing procedures, telegraph installation guidelines, provisions for penalising offences, and supplementary regulations. This multifaceted legislation is a regulatory tool and a foundation for ensuring efficient and secure telecommunication services throughout the country.
Because India continues to evolve in the realm of communication and information technology, the Indian Telegraph Act remains a crucial legal framework, adapting and guiding the development of telecommunication infrastructure and services in the nation.
FAQs on the Indian Telegraph Act
When was this Act passed and came into force in India?
The Indian Telegraph Act was passed in 1883, and it came into force on 1 October 1885.
Under which section a licence can be revoked by the Central Government?
Under Section 8 of the Indian Telegraph Act, the Central Government at any time can revoke the licence granted under Section 4 on the breach of any rules laid by the Government.
Which part of the Indian Telegraph Act deals with the penalties?
Part IV of the Indian Telegraph Act deals with the penalties.
Can a Telegraph Officer be considered a public servant?
Yes, a Telegraph Officer is a public servant as described in Sections 161, 162, 163, 164, and 165 of the Indian Penal Code, 1860.