Features Thursday, September 04, 2014 - 05:30
TNM News ServicesBangalore, September 1, 2014 – You can call it the great-grandmother of Twitter. Or go back even further. It’s a 19th century invention but was popularized in the 20th century, so much so that in China, where information is monitored and online-chats blocked, the government encourages school children to use it as a sport. But in India, access to amateur radio licenses is bound in red-tape and archaic laws written during the British period when friends and family could get one and Indians were actively discouraged from entering the world of ham radio amateurs, so called as opposed to professional services. “China which allowed ham radio only in the 70’s has some 50,000 licenses whereas India which has had this for much longer only has some 17,000 amateur radio users,” R. Ramachandra, former President of the Amateur Radio Society of India (ARSI) told The News Minute (TNM). “In times of distress, floods or natural calamities, there is no other means of communication except ham radio. Latur, Gujarat earthquakes, Tsunami, even 9/11 – you name it and you will find that radio messages from the ham community have been the first to respond and save lives,” he added. It was a ham message that alerted the world, especially India, to the 2012 coup in Maldives.The ARSI has written to Union Telecommunications Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad asking that the laws be reviewed, the clearance procedure be speeded up and licenses be given to people interested in not just connecting with the world but also connecting the world to each other in times of distress. A copy of the letter is available with TNM.While the authority to issue the license is the telecommunications ministry, the Indian government has raised security issues citing that the technology may fall into hands of terrorists thus requiring that anyone who applies for a license also requires a security clearance. The ARSI had also written to the Union Home Minister P. Chidambaram in 2011 but their letter remains unanswered. In China, it is the sports ministry that issues ham licenses, it is reliably learnt. The letter says nowhere in the world is a security clearance required and that amateur radio operators are self-disciplined and report any untoward conversations. In other countries, you become an amateur radio enthusiast after you pass a basic exam, pay a fee and get yourself a transmitter and receiver. In India, you still have to know someone who knows someone and this discourages people from coming on to a platform that is educational and entertaining. Just like twitterati spend time collecting followers, ham radio amateurs can spend entire weekends speaking to people around the world in what then becomes a competition to collect other hams. For the anecdote, the late Rajiv Gandhi was a ham. This was before mobile phones and his interest in technology led him to encourage his friends and family to get licenses. The minimum age which is 18 years was reduced to 14 to allow Rahul Gandhi to get a license. And here’s the sting in the tail. While all the “happening people” then were running around with what they called walkie-talkies, many of them didn’t realize that other hams can listen in to their conversations. We told you – the world of amateur radio is a disciplined one.

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