Cellular towers in residential areasThere has been a huge controversy going on regarding cellular towers erected near residential areas, schools and hospitals. There is nothing against mobile companies and we should appreciate the development in this sector. But, the major concern has been that cellular towers are required for the functioning of mobile phones. In Delhi, there are around 5,656 mobile towers, of which 2,656 are illegal. East Delhi has 1,470 cellphone towers, of which 588 are illegal. The South Delhi corporation has 2,834 mobile towers, of which 1,543 are illegal. In some cases, the towers have been constructed on unauthorised buildings. There are certain rules and regulations that need to be followed for setting up a cellular tower in any locality. The big question is whether the mobile companies are following the norms or not?

Norms for setting up mobile towers in Delhi and other areas

  • Before installation of tower, the licensee company should obtain clearance from the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to make sure that there are no aviation hazards, no interference with other wireless users, and no obstruction to any other microwave links existing in the area.
  • Telecom companies have to get the requisite permission from the concerned local authorities/ municipal corporation before installation of tower.
  • There should not be any nearby buildings in front of the tower antenna with height comparable to the lowest antenna at a distance as specified.
  • Operators should also check the emission level so that it does not cover areas with public exposure.
  • Specific absorption rate (SAR) limit of 1.6watt/Kg (on an average, over 1 gm of tissue) was implemented from September 1, 2012.
  • It is also specified that the pole mounted antenna height should be 5 metre above ground or road level on flyovers.
  • There should not be any residential place or office in front of the antenna at a height comparable to the antenna in the exclusion zone.
  • Last but not the least, there are no restriction for installation of tower on or near specific buildings like hospitals, schools, playground etc. as new strict standards based on precautionary principles apply equally to all locations with human presence.

Hazards associated with mobile towers

Experts say that continuous exposure to a cell tower located within 50 m of your home or office is like being in a microwave oven for the entire day. It carries the same cancer risk as in the cases of living in localities surrounded by DDT, chloroform, lead, and petrol exhaust. Many international studies have shown that people living within 1,300 feet of mobile towers had three times the normal cancer risk.

Another study revealed that while cancer is the extreme case, people living near the mobile towers face other disorders like extreme fatigue, headaches, sleep disorders, memory loss, depression, hearing loss, joint pains, skin problems, cardiovascular problems, among others. The World Health Organisation’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) also reported that cellphone handsets’ and towers’ radiations are possibly carcinogenic to humans and may cause a type of brain cancer or glioma. Cell towers are more dangerous than the mobile handsets because they generate greater-intensity radiation 24 hours.

Government’s role

  • The Government of India, in the year 2008, adopted the International Commission for Non Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) Guidelines, which is considered outdated by many experts.
  • On the basis of the recommendations made by an Inter-Ministerial Committee formed by DoT in the year 2010, limiting reference levels of electromagnetic radiation from Mobile towers was reduced to 1/10th of the limit prescribed by the ICNIRP with effect from September 1, 2012.
  • The Delhi High Court in 2013 issued notice to the Central and city bodies to remove the cell towers presently operating near residential areas, schools and hospitals in Delhi.
  • The Indian Government directed cellular companies to take prior permission from residents welfare associations (RWAs) before setting up base stations in residential areas so as to reduce the dangerous effects of electromagnetic radiation exposure.
  • On non-compliance of electromagnetic frequency (EMF) standards, a fine of Rs 5 lakh would be levied per base station per service provider.
  • India has also adopted the most stringent rules for mobile handsets. All new handsets with revised SAR values of 1.6 watt/ kg are manufactured or imported into the country, since September 2013.
  • Besides seeking a ban on mobile towers in populated areas of Delhi, the Government also directed the DoT, private operators and the higher authorities to take steps to reduce exposure to radiation.

Sealing and de-sealing operations of cell towers in Delhi

Since 2011, a continuous phase of sealing and de-sealing of cell towers is going on in Delhi. The MCDs have issued strict orders of sealing of all cell towers which do not comply with the norms. Special drive has been taken by corporations to check illegal cell towers. It was reported by the MCD that out of 5,459 mobile phone towers installed under the jurisdiction of MCD, 2717 towers have been set up without permission. The New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) has reported that there are no illegal towers in NDMC area. In October 2014, the Delhi High Court directed the corporations to de-seal those mobile towers for which the operators have obtained valid licences.

What else can be done?

In spite of strict norms and repeated requests, there are many areas in Delhi, where mobile towers still exist in the residential areas, some of the best known locations are Model Town, Vikas Puri, Janak Puri, among others. While the construction of cell towers will continue, as citizens, there are certain steps that can be taken:

  • As it is a known fact that it is illegal to erect cellular towers in residential areas without taking formal permission, people in that locality should complain at the MCD’s office of their locality as soon as possible.
  • Amplification of power in the cell towers should be reduced. This can be done by removing the power amplifier or by reducing the gain of the antenna. By reducing the power, area of coverage will also be reduced.
  • The height of towers should be increased.
  • All towers in areas close to schools and hospitals should be checked and removed, if they are too close.
  • Experts say that instead of removing towers and passing on the problem to some other area, the best solution is to reduce the transmitted power. If the transmitted power cannot be reduced, only then the tower should be removed.
  • Last but not the least, if you are really scared of the dangerous outcome of the radiation of cell towers within your locality, then opt for precautionary measures that can block the radiation from entering your house. You can do this by installing shielding films on window or radiation blocking curtains and wallpapers.

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