The commissioning of a study by the ministry of environment and forests on the radiation threat posed by mobile towers is welcome, though a lot of data on the impact of the working of the towers on human and animal health is already available.
The study will pay special attention to the effect on radiation on animal behaviour but the results will be relevant for human health also. There are frequent reports about the effect of electromagnetic radiation from communication towers on bees, birds and animals. There have also been studies which suggest that the radiation is carcinogenic, though the view is contested by others. Since mobile phone companies have a vested interest in playing down the likely harmful effects of radiation from towers there is the need for objective studies in the area.
There is hardly any mechanism to monitor the radiation levels from mobile towers in India and the self-certification by operators is not scrutinised. Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee recently pulled up the Department of Telecommunications for ignoring the threat. The international guidelines on the location of towers and level of radiation emitted by them, endorsed by the World Health Organisation, are not being followed in the country. WHO studies have pointed to a linkage between the location of mobile towers and health problems of residents in their vicinity. The explosion of mobile telephony has seen the setting up of mobile towers in crowded areas and on roof tops. Cities are affected more than rural areas. It has been claimed that most of the residential space in our urban areas is in unsafe radiation zone.
There are about four lakh mobile towers in the country now and another one lakh may be added in the next two years. Even a ministerial panel had once suggested that the exposure limit for the radio frequency field should be brought down to one-tenth of present levels. Mobile telephony has become essential now and it cannot be rolled back.
But there should be restrictions on the setting up of towers in residential areas, and the radiation levels should conform to international standards. There should be continuous monitoring and the radiation levels from particular towers should be made public to people living in the area. The norms should have legal backing and operators who violate them should be penalised.