A news item published in The New Indian Express (Chennai Edition).
February 6, 1995
What makes hams unenthusiastic
MADRAS - What do Sonia Gandhi and Kamal Hassan have in common? They are all amateur ham radio operators, among the over 7000 such enthusiasts in the country, comming from various walks of life-- doctors, law students, artistes and politicians. In fact, Madras leads in the number of hams with 1054, followed by bangalore with 899 and Bombay with 440!.
Actually, the south seems inclined to this hobby, with nearly 5000 of the hams coming from the four southern states. Tamil Nadu tops with 2148, followed by Karnataka with 1257, Kerala with 887 and Andhra Pradesh with 690.
If you want to become a ham, however you have got a long wait ahead. five thousand applications for licences are pending with the Wireless Planning commission (WPC) at New Delhi, of the Department of Telecommunications, which issues the Amateur Radio Operator licence, says D.Sankaran, a committee member of the Madras Amateur Radio Society in Adyar, one of the foremost clubs in the City:" The WPC is hampered by lack of manpower. As far as I know there are only two personnel to handle the licence applications for the whole country. And, between 1990 and 1993 the WPC shifted their office five times resulting in a lot of confusion with regard to the files. hopefully, their new centre is a permanent one."
The licence is given in four categories - Advanced, Grade 1, Grade 2 and Restricted, One has to apply for the licence after has to apply for the licence after passing the required examinations, which include basic electronic and radio theory and the Morse code.
The process of issue, which includes a police verification similar to the one required for obtaining a passport, should not normally take more than six months. But it now takes over a year and a half at least, and there are applications pending for three years or more. Various other irregularties are also alleged by disgruntled applicants, and many of them are even contemplating legal action against the WPC.
"The issue of icences should be decentralised - in the sense, more offices should be opened. Somehow the issue and renewal of these licences, which are given for two - year and five - year periods, should be expedited."
So what do the hams talk about? What they don't do is conduct business transaction discuss seditious matters, or pass on third-party messages. the thing to remember is that the ham is not meant to replace the telephone or other means of telecommunications. Of course, large corporations, like the ONGC may buy frequencies for professional use. These don't come under the amateur group. As do other services who use radio, like the police, fire service, aviation and the like.
Ham operators use 7,14,21 and 28 mhz on the High Frequencies (HF) with which they can reach out to not only the whole of India, but other countries. In the US there are over 5 lakh hams, the highest in the world, with Japan coming next.
Very High Frequencies (VHF) to 144 to 146 mhz are also allotted to hams. They have a more limited range. With the help of "repeaters", which receive and send the signals on, they can cover a radius of 70 kilometres. there are two repeaters in Madras, placed at strategic points in the City.
There is also a radio monitoring station at Perungudi, one of the most sophisticated in the subcontinent, which monitors what is spoken on various frequencies, including the amateur ones. Punishments ranging from fines to imprisonment exist for various infringements, like attempting to use unauthorised frequenceis, or usage for reasons other than those specified.
"We would also like the 25 per cent duty on imported ham equipment to be waived. Right now it is quite an expensive hobby. A hand helf VHF set with which you can communicate locally, costs about Rs.15,000. A HF set would cost anything upward of Rs.35,000. Most of us use home assembled sets which work out to a cost of Rs.5000," says Mr. Sankaran.
"We would also like the government to help establish a repeater to repeater link across the country. then we can communicate to the whole of India with just the VHF equipment. For now, we are planning to put up a new repeater at Thirumalaivayyavur, which would extend our range to 200 km," he adds.
Author - Sridhar Krishnaprasad