Prof Farhat Basir Khan, AJK Mass Communication Research Centre, Jamia Millia Islamia
Over the past decade, people have become more health conscious than ever before. Unfortunately, in extremes, even good things result in bad outcomes. This is clear in the case of mobile towers, where concerns about electromagnetic field (EMF) radiation have created a national scare and misconception in the minds of the people. Consequently, hundreds of mobile towers have been dismantled and new ones prevented from being constructed in many areas. Thereafter, some of the negative outcomes include frequent call drops throughout India. The Lok Sabha standing committee on information technology, in its recent report on Issues Related to Quality of Services and Reported Call Drops confirms objections and protests by resident welfare associations against installation of mobile towers is one of the reasons for call drop in the country.
But is radiation from towers really so harmful? A close look at hard facts dispels this myth. The World Health Organisation has perused around 25,000 articles worldwide during the past 30 years, concluding: ...current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low-level electromagnetic fields.
Surpassing Global Norms
In 1996, WHO set up the International EMF Project to study the scientific evidence on the possible side effects of EMF. This involved more than 50 national and 8 international bodies and independent institutions. The WHO reviews indicate EMF exposures within limits prescribed by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) global guidelines do not have any known health impact. ICNIRP's monitoring is ongoing, ensuring its safe exposure norms are up-to-date.
Accordingly, WHO recommends adoption of these international standards. In 2008, the Government of India accepted the ICNIRP norms for limiting levels of EMF radiation from mobile towers. Despite this, based on the recommendations of an inter-ministerial committee, the government decided to adopt norms ten times more stringent in 2012. Hence there seems to be no probable cause for imposing separate norms in residential areas as is being currently demanded in some quarters.
The present limits were reviewed and deemed adequate by a committee instituted by the Allahabad High Court in 2014. Incidentally, the committee comprised members from IITs Kharagpur, Kanpur, Roorkee, Delhi, Mumbai, and other scientific institutions, including Indian Council of Medical Research, Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, Lucknow, and All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi.
Additionally, the DoT has taken steps to enforce stricter limits in India. Therefore, all BTS (base transceiver station) sites have to be safe limits compliant, with certification to this effect submitted by the respective TERM (Telecom Enforcement Resource & Monitoring) Cells of DoT. New BTS sites can begin radiating commercially only after this certification is submitted to the TERM Cell. An extensive audit of compliance self-certificates submitted by telecom service providers and BTS sites is regularly undertaken by field units of TERM.
BTS sites attracting public complaints are also tested by the TERM Cell. If any BTS site violates EMF norms, 10 lakh penalty per BTS per incidence is imposed. If the violation persists, the BTS can be closed. Periodically, testing is done as per prescribed procedures of TEC (Telecom Engineering Centre).
Vast Infrastructure Required
In all the uproar, however, it is conveniently forgotten that the telecom industry is critical for India's growth, progress, and development. Indeed, 100,000 new towers are needed annually to provide seamless services across India, including for new advanced technologies such as 4G, 5G, and the Internet of Things.
Without robust mobile services, many ambitious government programs such as Digital India, Smart Cities, Jan Dhan Yojana, Skill India, Broadband for All, etc., will not enjoy long-term success. It is time well-informed sections of society help in countering the groundless myths about mobile tower radiation that are impeding India's progress and prosperity. That is the only way the Hon'ble Prime Minister's dream of a modern India can be fulfilled by 2022.