April 12, 2021: The Indian Telegraph Act, 1883 is the enabling legislation in India which governs the use of wired and wireless telegraphy, telephones, teletype, radio communications and digital data communications. It gives the Government of India exclusive jurisdiction and privileges for establishing, maintaining, operating, licensing and oversight of all forms of wired and wireless communications within Indian territory.
The act came into force on October 1, 1885 and numerous amendments have been passed to update the act to respond to changes in technology.
About Indian Telegraph Act, 1885
The current definition of “telegraph” under Telegraph Act. It defines “telegraph” as “any appliance, instrument, material or apparatus used or capable of use for transmission or reception of signs, signals, writing, images and sounds or intelligence of any nature by wire, visual or other electro-magnetic emissions, Radio waves or Hertzian waves, galvanic, electric or magnetic means”.
The main purpose of the Telegraph Act was to give power to the Government to install telegraph lines on private as well as public property.
Framework of the Indian Telegraph Act
The Indian Telegraph Act, 1885 contains six parts. Part I deals with definitions of key words used in the Telegraph Act. Part II grants government the exclusive privilege with respect to telegraph. Part II also gives power to the issue license to private operators to offer telegraph services. Part IIA was inserted in the Telegraph Act by the Indian Telegraph (Amendment) Act, 2003.
It deals with setting up of the Universal Service Obligation Fund (USOF) for the purpose of meeting universal service obligation. (For further details see the Module on USOF). Part III deals with procedures and guidelines to be followed; for installing and maintaining communication equipment. It also lays down guidelines for setting up communication devices in private property and also the procedure for resolution of any dispute which may arise between the service provider and the owner of the private property.
Part IV lays down the offences and penalties with respect to unauthorised use of communication or telegraph services. Part V deals with other supplementary provisions.
Some Important Sections
Section 4 of the Act deals with exclusive privilege of the government to establish, maintain and use telegraphs. It also provides for the government to grant licence to establish, maintain or work a telegraph. The government may grant such licence on certain conditions and for a licence fee.
Section 5 of the Telegraph Act is commonly known as the wire-tapping clause. It gives power to the government to take possession of any licensed telegraphs in case of a public emergency or in the interest of public safety. It can also order interception of communication in the interests of the sovereignty and integrity of India, the security of the state, friendly relation with foreign states or public order or for preventing incitement to the commission of an offence. However, the government has to follow the procedure established by law for issuing such order.
Section 7 of the Telegraph Act vests with the government the power to make rules for the conduct of telegraphs.
Section 9 deals with government liability with respect to loss or damage. The government does not take any responsibility for any loss or damage caused by telegraph officer fails in performing his duties. However, such telegraph officer can be held liable if acts negligently, maliciously or fraudulently.
Section 32 and 33
Section 31 deals with bribery and section 32 states that, “whoever attempts to commit any offence punishable under this Act shall be punished with the punishment herein provided for the offence”.
Section 33 deals with the power of the State Government to employ additional police force in place where mischief to telegraph is repeatedly committed.
- An order for law interception can only be made by the Home Secretary to the Government of India and home secretaries of state governments. In urgent situations the power may be delegated to an officer of the Home Department of Government of India and state governments and such officer should not be below the rank of joint secretary.
- A copy of the order has to be sent to the review committee within one week of issuance of such order.
- The intercepted material can be used only for purposes mentioned under the wire-tapping clause.
- The interception will be valid for two months unless it is renewed. However, the total period of interception should not exceed six months.