Bureau of Indian Standards failed to prescribe safety norms for mobile phones, towers: CAG report

Revised radiation limit to be in force from September 1 

By Ankur Paliwal
Published: Friday 31 August 2012

The Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) of India has pulled up the Bureau of Indian Standards (BIS) for not formulating safety standards for mobile phone handsets and their batteries or prescribing the limit for electromagnetic radiation from mobile phones and towers. The report was submitted to Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee on August 30.

CAG quoted a report of World Health Organisation, released on May 31, 2011, which classifies mobile phone radiation as “carcinogenic hazard” There are at present 85 crore mobile users in India, comprising 70 per cent of the population. India represents over 11 per cent of the mobile phone market, and this figure is expected to increase to 13.4 per cent by 2013. With such an increase in demand, it is very important to have standards, says the CAG report. The report cautioned that despite instances of mobile phones malfunctioning and exploding, causing injuries to people in the past, no standards exist in the country. 

BIS, in its reply to CAG queries, told the auditor general that the government had asked the Indian Cellular Association (ICA) to formulate the standards on mobile phones last year in September, but that it is yet to do so. As for the standards on radiation from mobile phone towers, the government, on July 2010, had asked the Telecommunication Engineering Centre under the Department of Telecommunications to make standards but the work is still to be started.

However, revised norms on electro-magnetic radiation emitted from mobile phone towers are coming into force from September 1, this year. These norms have been recommended by an inter-ministerial committee formed by Department of Telecommunication (DoT) last year. The committee in its report said that India currently follows the norms of International Commission on Non Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). The committee recommended reducing the permissible limit for exposure from the current by one-tenth—from 4.5 Watt per m2 to 0.4 watt per m2. ICNIRP is an independent scientific body that provides guidance on the health hazards of non-ionising radiation exposure. 

But some mobile radiation experts argue that even this revised limit is harmful. “Consistent exposure of even 0.001 Watt per m2 is harmful,” says Girish Kumar, professor with the electrical engineering department of IIT-Bombay. “The government has acted smart by telling people that it has brought down the exposure limits,” he added. In countries which follow ICNIRP like Russia, Italy and Poland, the permissible limits are 0.1, 1 and 0.1 Watt per m2, respectively.  Kumar says the ICNIRP guidelines are intended to protect people from the short-term heating effects and not from biological effects of long-term low-level exposure from towers. 



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