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Science & Technology

The right call?

Sep 30, 2012 | From the print edition

Norms to curb mobile radiation do little to assuage people’s fear

Norms to curb mobile radiation do little to assuage people’s fear

ELECTROMAGNETIC radiations from mobile phones and towers have been a source of health scare for some time now. But the Indian government has been slow in tightening the noose around cell phone manufacturers and operators’. In the absence of adequate checks, people are unaware of how to protect themselves. Cashing in on this insecurity are companies that promote technologies promising protection from radiation (see ‘Radiation barriers’).

WHO in 2011 classified electromagnetic radiation as a possible carcinogen after finding some linkages between exposure and brain tumours. In the light of this classification and a slew of cases in the court, the Department of Telecommunications (DOT), under the Union Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, revised the norms for radiations from cell towers and phones on September 1. The norms reduce the power density—intensity of radiation emitted by towers—to one tenth of the levels previously allowed. This means that for two different technologies used in mobile—CDMA and GSM—that work on 900 MHz frequency, the allowable power density is now 0.45 W/m2. For GSM phones that work on 1,800 MHz frequency, the power density is 0.9 W/m2.

For handsets, the limit of energy absorbed per unit mass of human tissues has been reduced on the basis of their effect on different parts of the body. For example, for the head, which touches the cell phone and absorbs maximum radiation, the current rules allow a maximum of 2W/kg of tissue. It has now been reduced to 1.6W/kg tissue. The Indian authorities have copied the standards of the US and have only recently bought in the device that can track radiations emitted by the phones. All the handsets manufactured in or imported to India will comply with this limit and existing handsets which do not comply with the new norms will be phased out by August 2013.

radiationThe standards set by DOT are not on the basis of any evidence. An inter- ministerial committee, which was set up in 2010 to examine the health hazards of electromagnetic radiations, recommended this value as a precautionary measure. The reduction might not help, say experts. Girish Kumar, professor of electrical engineering at IIT Bombay, says the new rules are just “eyewash”. He points out that power densities from 95 per cent of the cell towers are already below the new proposed levels.

Similarly, the mobile phones being manufactured already meet the new standards.

The way to reduce the levels of radiation from the cell phone towers is to increase the number of towers in the country and reduce their power. The power density is inversely proportional to the square of distance, so people living near the towers are the most vulnerable, says V P Sandlas, former scientist with Defence Research and Development Organisation. “Operators prefer towers with high power densities just to cover larger areas,” he adds. There were 540,000 cell towers and 934.09 million mobile subscribers in India in 2010.

Mobile phone operators are reluctant to install low-power towers. They say if power densities are reduced it will cause connectivity problems. This is hard to believe because many countries, including Russia, China, Hungary and Switzerland, have adopted much lower radiation levels without facing connectivity problem. For example, Austria has a power density of 0.001W/m2, while in China it is 0.4W/m2 at 1,800 MHz.

Experts say the high cost could be the reason for operators unwillingness to increase the number of towers. It is also the reason operators are not interested in using technologies that improve connectivity in low power densities—distributed antenna system (DAS) and femtocells can magnify the signals. DAS consists of a tower with multiple antenna sets while femtocells are low power transmitters. DOT, however, says the technologies are not feasible as apart from cost there is lack of space. Besides, there are 13 operators in the country and each family uses various mobile networks; different femtocells are required for each operator.

The only option available to people is to put their faith on products available in the market. Radiation protection chips, curtains, paints and pouches have flooded the market but the technology used in some of them is still a mystery. Chips are the most popular. Levin Healthcare Pvt Ltd, a company based in Uttar Pradesh, which manufactures the chips, refused to divulge details about how it works, maintaining that they use an “innovative” technology. They are fake, says Sandlas. Curtains and pouches that may work are only a temporary solution. “The only way out is to reduce power density,” he adds. But regulators are adamant. “It is impossible to reduce power densities. These demands are being made to promote radiation-safe products,” says P K Panigrahi, senior deputy director general of DOT.


Knowing the impact of RADIATION, the issues raised by the people will have short life and will go out of the screen. This has to be the process to continue till the end of getting the acceptable solution.

Understanding the seriousness of the issue, let us hope for better measures for the health of the people as well as the environment.

16 September 2012
Posted by
Lakshmi Narayana Nagisetty

It is a problem for sure. We need multiple level efforts to deal with it.

20 September 2012
Posted by

I sent the following letter to PM and which was forwarded to Secretary, M/O Environment and Forests, saying "for action as appropriate" dated 27-08-2012.

To: Dr. Manmohan Singh 12th August 2012
Prime Minister of India Hyderabad
New Delhi


Sub: My observations for appropriate action on “Mobile phones to BPL group vs Electromagnetic Radiation Pollution from Mobile Towers”, Reg.

Dear Dr. Manmohan Singhji,

Ministry of Environment and Forests study reveals that Mobile Towers/Cell Towers impact negatively wild life especially birds & bees and thus recommended to see that the distance between any two towers is less than one kilometer – however, the intensity of cell tower W/sq.mt. is more important. Thus, electromagnetic radiation is now classified as a pollutant. In urban areas it is affecting in addition people living around mobile towers. It is also widely reported that mobile phones/cell phones are affecting human hearing component/cancer. The cell phone culture increasing the generation of E-Waste day by day as every other day a new model entering the market. Thus, the beneficiaries of cell phone culture are the manufacturing companies of different models. They are minting over night billions of US Dollars.

The basic question is: with that much wealth are they in any way helping the society? The answer is a big “NO”. To help such people government now planned to provide cell phones free of cost to BPL families by spending Rs. 7,000 crores. That means government is gifting indirectly Rs. 7,000 crores to cell phone companies. As a result they build more cell towers in rural areas and create electromagnetic radiation pollution even in rural areas that affect animal and birds along with humans. Birds are the friends of farmers. The bird population goes down means agriculture will be affected severely in terms of production and thus pests & diseases control. The working hours thus reduced by two to three hours – that is, cell phone culture creates inefficiency among work force.

BPL families get cell phones free of cost and thus they have to spend money on them every month to the cell phone companies. That means in Andhra Pradesh, BPL families spend 50% of their income for alcohol and in the remaining half another half to cell phones.

Unfortunately, our planning commission is full of agents of Western MNCs & World Bank and thus looks at benefiting them at the cost of our nature. In my earlier mails also I pointed out the need to eradicate such people from planning commission and PMO.

We appeal you Sir, please look into these issues from all angles and take positive decision to save our rural life from the menace of cell phone culture.

With Regards

Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

17 September 2012
Posted by
Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

Dear Sir
Thanks for sharing your letter with us.

20 September 2012
Posted by

Reddy garu is right. But the truth of all this BPL refrain is to post a mirage of better untilisation of the 'Bharat Nirman' component on telecom for rural areas- the laggard amongst the eight templates under the genre of rural infrastructure.
Consider if half of this amount was spent on creating rural storage facilities, for instance, with each panchayat-gram sabha having their own grain storage infrastructure.

25 September 2012
Posted by
Prof. J. George

Dear Sir,

Why don't increase the usage of Land-line phones once again and minimise use of mobile for the emergency only.

Alternatively we should use speaker and earphones while taking over mobile.

19 September 2012
Posted by
SN Sharma


This can be a part of solution for sure. But the major issue of power densities will still remain relevant. People living near cell tower will remain exposed to unsafe levels of power densities.


20 September 2012
Posted by

when science and technology were not so evolved,people died due to ignorance and negligence.now they die due to increased 'boon' or curse.basic result is we are yet to know what suits us best.inefficient knowledge can be dangerous for public property and life is well known.so are we doing anything to remove this inefficiency?or we're all under 'under-achiever' like our PM,as quoted by foreign media?

28 September 2012
Posted by
sujata mukherjee

True. But there are hardly any technical problems in keeping the power densities within safe precautionary levels. Mobile phones can work well even much below these levels. The reluctance of companies to install low power cell towers seem to be because of the expenses involved in it.

1 October 2012
Posted by

At Longowal, District Sangrur - Punjab there are 3 mobile towers within a distance of 1 Km and the diatance of 2 towers from residential buildings is less than 35 meters. Despite complaints, the authorities are sleeping over the issue!

29 September 2012
Posted by
Dr Amandeep Aggarwal

Rules of Distance between Mobile Tower i.e. one Km. radius is not followed. I am staying at Bhau Patil Road,Pune & there are around 9 to 10 Mobile towers in radius less than one Km. There is no such rules been followed or Government or local body is not monitoring such rules & regulation.

27 June 2013
Posted by

dear sir/madam,
we want the tower intalation system in school buildindings at RBT/GBT ,pl. give all details.

15 September 2014
Posted by

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