BANGALORE: Call it the towers of doom or development, the mobile phone towers that have been powering and revolutionising the communication network in the city, stands testimony to the rising footfall of mobile telephony and at the same time is a cause for concern because of the irreparable radiation effects. The recent petitions filed in Bangalore and Jaipur by concerned citizens as well as demolition of three towers in Jaipur city by the Corporation authorities on complaints that the mobile towers may have been the cause behind two members of a family suffering from brain cancer is a pointer to the growing concerns of a few citizens. Considered a threat not only to the health of humans but also birds and animals, the installation of these towers which produce substantial amount of electro-magnetic radiation, causes short term health risks like headaches, sleeplessness, mood swings, hormonal imbalances and in the long term, studies have indicated that it may cause mental depression, tumours, cancer of the skin, lungs, blood and breast. Over the years, with mobile service providers racing to improve their coverage, the skyline of the garden city has been mauraded with these ugly contraptions, thereby, masking and drowning the colourful and diverse heritage of Bangalore. Throwing all rules and regulations to the wind, unlike the US where a specific place is fixed for installation, here mobile towers have sprung up in every nook and cranny, be it near a school, hospital, hotel or house. It is seen to be believed, says one resident AP Rao and laments if one stands on the Sirsi Circle Flyover at the highest point, the thickly populated area of KR Market is literally inundated and decorated by these towers, some even springing up from the turrets of a mosque or jutting out from a dilapidated residence, or a run-down hotel of a bygone era. There is no discrimination when it comes to its installation as one can see the terraced floor of an apartment building, an individual house, an office complex or a business complex in the city littered with such towers. Even institutions of learning, nursing homes, hospitals and the places of worship including temples, mosques and churches are not free from their invasion. Although, this wireless technology has revolutionised communication but in its wake, has wrought serious consequences for the mankind which our brethern have hardly realised, in their race to rent out the sparse space in the city for installation.
Presently, with the major mobile service providers in the city in an expansion mode, BSNL has more than 1200 mobile towers while Airtel has more than 4000. BSNL will be installing 200 more in the coming days with the rising demand for better coverage and networking. BSNL sources say, “Mobile tower installation which is done by infrastructure provider companies involves lot of regulations and permission from the environment and civic authorities. There is a set of guidelines on radiation and installation aspects which is strictly followed as any violation by the provider invites a hefty fine of Rs 5 lakh. Some private operators in their zeal to give better coverage increase the transmitted power during peak hours some times exceeding 20 watts which poses a serious health problem for the citizens who are unaware of the consequences. But, we always maintain between 16-18 watts. Even the place where the tower is installed is a restricted area with warning signs and boards being placed at the Base Station Antenna sites.” One of the private service provider says, “However, the rules pertaining to ‘a ban on installation in a radius of 100 metres around schools and hospitals’ has never been followed in this city or country.” With the rising demand for better coverage in densely populated areas of Bangalore, towers have come up not just near schools but also inside hospital complexes. “The irony is the doctor community themselves in many hospitals of the city, with total disregard for radiation effects, have demanded installation of towers inside the medical complexes to have a better reach,” adds BSNL. In the wake of increasing incidents of complaints and filing of petitions, the need of the hour is setting up of more mobile towers but with lesser transmitted power, thereby phasing out high power diesel generators and reducing carbon emissions and gaining carbon credit. There is a need for sustained campaign by the government that ‘with the reduction in transmitted power, for sometime, there will be networking problems to people living far off from the towers’ but such measures have to be taken.
On the other hand, mobile operators have been claiming till now there is no radiation hazard as the above measures will increase their installation and maintenance cost.
The IIT report concludes that the mobile industry is worse than the cigarette industry as radiation is worse than smoking because one cannot see or smell it.
Approved radiation levels
The Central Government is in the process of finalising tougher norms for radiation emanating from mobile towers. In fact, an Inter Ministerial Report (IMR) submitted to the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) in 2010 has recommended cutting down of mobile phone tower radiation by one-tenth of the present level. India currently follows the International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNRIP), a German independent body’s guidelines set for exposure to radiation which is 9.2 watts per metre square (W/m2) for GSM 1800 but India has adopted a very relaxed radiation norm of 4.7 W/m2 for GSM 900. “We have moved to a regime which is more stringent than ICNIRP and that is followed by about 10-20 per cent of the world,” the government has claimed. But IIT Mumbai’s ‘Cell Tower Radiation Report’ submitted to the DOT in December 2010 debunks these claims and says, “The ICNIRP guidelines which clearly states that for simultaneous exposure to multiple frequency fields (present in a sharing tower), the sum of all radiations must be taken into consideration. However, in India, we have applied this limit to individual carriers so the radiation level exceeds by several times than the adopted guidelines.” According to established norms, the radiation level of 6 watts per meter square is considered safe. But many mobile phone towers emit electro magnetic rays above the safe limit.The current US standard is 10 watts per metre square but they are in the process of revising these norms. Many other countries have set levels which is hundreds of times lower.
Effect on birds, animals
Recent studies in the US and Europe have indicated that the erection of towers have resulted in adverse health effects on birds and animals. One will never see a bee, butterfly, pigeon, sparrow or any bird staying or flying near a tower, why is this? The reason is that the surface area of a bird is larger than their weight in comparison to a human body, so they absorb more radiation and the resulting magnetic field disturbs their navigational skills. Kerala having the highest density of mobile towers has seen a marked decline in the commercial bee population, hitting apiculture. In Bangalore, the disappearance of sparrows is attributed to radiation emanating from mobile towers while there has been a marked decline in roosting of pigeons especially in the older parts of the city which were once purview to the guttural sounds of these birds. A scientific study into the effects of a mobile tower on a herd of dairy cattle was conducted in Germany and published in 1998. The erection of the tower caused adverse health effects resulting in a measurable drop in milk yield, however, relocating the cattle restored the milk yield.
Greed for money
The towers are money spinners. Do you know that one service provider pays a rent of `45,000 per month at Manipal Centre while a group of six operators are paying a rent of one lakh rupees each per month at the Mahalakshmi Chambers on MG Road. This is easy money which one can earn without investment but at a price, if you take into consideration your health aspects, sitting right below, around an EMF field. If you install a mobile tower in your building premises, the rent is anywhere between Rs 15,000 to 30,000 per month in the city and this is what attracts building owners and other real estate owners in selling or marketing their space, even on websites. There is a total disregard for rules or health concerns and the rule of the game is how to make more money from the space available in a city that boasts of Rs 4000-5000 per square feet even on the outskirts of Bangalore. There are exclusive websites like Bangalore.olx.in or whytelecom.com that are full of advertisements where people offer or market their land or house for installation of mobile towers. The list of people offering their space for installation of mobile towers every day runs into thousands and most of them seem to be unaware of any guidelines or the repercussions of such an acquisition.
Towering guidelines, only on paper
All local authorities including the BBMP are supposed to consider the following guidelines before giving permission for installation of mobile towers. The Environment (Protection) Act, 1986, and the rules made under this says, ‘All mobile phone service providers are directed to follow the guidelines strictly at the time of installation of the mobile tower. As per the guidelines framed in 2006, no tower would be installed within 100 meter radius of hospitals and educational institutes. With regard to the location of towers, cellular operators shall avoid residential areas for erection of the same.’
* Installation of Base Station Antennas within the premises of schools and hospitals may be avoided because children and patients are more susceptible to Electro Magnetic Field.
* Installation of Base Station Antennas in narrow lanes should be avoided in order to reduce the risks caused by any earthquake or wind related disaster.
* The Base Station Antennas should be at least three m away from the nearby building and antennas should not directly face the building. Further, the lower end of the antenna should be at least three meter above the ground or roof.
* In case of multiple transmitter sites at a specific locality, sharing of a common tower infrastructure should be explored as far as possible, which can be coordinated through a nodal agency.
* Access to Base Station Antenna sites should be prohibited for general public by suitable means such as wire fencing, locking of the door to the roof etc. Access to tower site, even for the maintenance personnel, should be for a minimum period as far as possible.
* Sign boards/Warning Signs are to be provided at Base Station Antenna sites which should be clearly visible and identifiable. A warning sign should be placed at the entrance of such zone.
* The “Warning Sign” should discourage longer stay in the zone, even for the maintenance personnel. The sign board may contain the following text :
1. Danger : RF radiations, Do not enter and
2. Restricted Area
The operators and maintenance personnel, who are dealing with radio frequency devices, especially with Base Station Antennas installed on towers and at any other outdoor sites, should be protected from electromagnetic radiations.
* First preference shall be given to the location of tower in the Forest areas.
* Second preference shall be given to the location of tower in the open or public areas away from residential locations.
* Where it is not possible to avoid the location of the tower in residential area, the same shall be located in open space or park, with prior consent of owners of adjoining residential houses.