Mobile tower risks: Rajasthan High Court issues notice to telecom operators

Petition filed by two senior citizens dwells on harmful and hazardous radiation from towers

By Moyna
Published: Tuesday 06 March 2012

Following a writ petition by two senior citizens citing increased incidence of cancer because of mobile towers, the Rajasthan High court, has issued notices to 13 mobile service providers, including Vodafone and Airtel, and seven government agencies.

The court in its order on March 2 asked each of the respondents to explain the petition's claims of increasing instances of cancer because of mobile tower radiation and illegally erected mobile towers in the state. The 20 respondents have been given four weeks time to submit their replies.

The petitioners– retired Justice I S Israni and Nirmala Singh–have collected various news reports and studies to show the harmful effects of radiation. Through examples of illegally constructed towers in their own neighborhood they have attempted to question the larger issue of regulation and monitoring of these towers. In the plot next to Israni's and Singh’s house in different localities of Jaipur mobile service providers have “illegally erected a mobile tower” says the petition. The one next to Singh's house is owned by Bharti Infratel Ltd and she in November 2011 had requested the municipal authority and the urban development and housing department to take action against the company. But her notice was not even acknowledged by the government. The petition says the towers were installed without permission.

Citing right to life as a fundamental right, the petition filed on February 24, 2012, requested the court to take action against the service providers and the authorities concerned. The petition says that harmful and hazardous radiation from these towers have become a health and safety concern for all residents. They also cause noise pollution due to the power backup through generators.

Why cellphone towers are a health hazard?

Israni in the petition has compared cellphone tower radiation to smoking. The petition states, “Cellphone industry is becoming another cigarette industry, which keeps claiming that smoking is not harmful and now there are millions of people around the world who have suffered from smoking. In fact, cellphone tower radiation is worse than smoking as one cannot see it or smell it, and its effect on health is noted after a long period of exposure.”

The petition says exposure to mobile radiation leads to increased risk of cancer, human fatigue, impotency, cataract, sleep disturbance, dizziness, loss of memory, slow reflexes, headaches, tachycardia (heart palpitations) and ailments of the digestive system and kidneys.  It is also harmful for the aged, pregnant women and children’s.

Currently, there are more than 40-50 crore cellphone users and nearly 4.4 lakh cellphone towers in India. “The number of cellphones and cell towers are increasing without considering its disadvantages,” says the petition. It adds, “All over the world, people have been debating about associated health risk of radiation from cellphones and cell towers. Radiation effects are divided into thermal and non-thermal effects. Thermal effects are similar to that of cooking in microwave oven. Non-thermal effects are not well defined but it has been reported they are 3 to 4 times more harmful than thermal effects.”

As per the studies cited in the petition, a cellphone transmits one to two watt of power in the frequency range of 824 - 849 MHz (CDMA), 890 - 915 MHz (GSM phones with a bandwidth of 900) and 1,710 – 1,780 MHz (GSM phones with a bandwidth of 1,800). A cellphone has a Specific Absorption Rate (SAR) rating. In the US, SAR limit for cell phones is 1.6W/kg which is actually for 6 minutes per day usage. It has a safety margin of 3 to 4 (MHz), so a person should not use cell phone for more than 18 to 24 minutes per day. “This information is not commonly known to the people in India, so people use cell phones for more than an hour per day without realising its associated health hazards,” says the petition. Cell tower antennas transmit in the frequency range of 869 - 894 MHz (CDMA), 935 - 960 MHz (GSM 900) and 1,810–1,880 MHz (GSM1,800). Also, 3G connectivity is available in few cities, in which base station antenna transmits in the frequency range of 2,110 – 2,170 MHz.

Government, not so concerned

Prateek Kasliwal, advocate for the petitioners, says that the municipalities in Rajasthan had passed by-laws in 2010 to look into the installation of mobile towers in the state. “But these by-laws and other government notices are reduced to the issue of revenue generated by the installation of these towers and not its effects. No one is addressing the dangers of radiation.” He adds that the measurement apparatus used by service providers to determine radio frequency factor and electro-magnetic radiation is obsolete and outdated.

In December 2011, an inter-ministerial group had submitted nine recommendations to the state assembly to address radiation concerns.  It suggested that service providers to install smaller towers, no towers be installed near hospitals or schools, a body be created to check radiation levels and provide the radiation details in the public domain. Kasliwal says no action has been taken on any of the recommendations. “The government doesn't even have the equipment or training to carry out radiation tests. They ask the mobile companies to provide the technology and expertise and then publish the data that the mobile companies give them,” he adds.

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