Govt has no info on radiation limit for telecom towers

No mechanism exists to check violations, reveal RTI queries

Govt has no info on radiation limit for telecom towers

The Karnataka government has no information about permissible levels of radiation for telecom towers, nor does it have any mechanism to check radiation levels in cities and towns across the State. 

There is also no information with the government about the density of towers in a particular area, or about enforcement agencies to check radiation. Neither the Union nor the State government has conducted any study on the impact of radiation on living beings and environment.

These facts emerged in replies to RTI applications filed by Deccan Herald in different government departments, including the office of chief secretary, urban development department (UDD), environment and forest department and the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike (BBMP). 

The RTI queries were filed in the wake of the mushrooming of telecom towers in cities and towns, and the unexplained disappearance of sparrows, a variety of birds, butterflies and honeybees from the urban space. 

Information was sought about restrictions, if any, on installing telecom towers, criteria to set up towers on residential buildings, permissible level of radiation emitted by telecom towers, the government’s mechanism to check radiation levels – particularly in cities where mobile penetration is very high – and enforcement agencies in cities, towns and villages to check violations in setting up towers. A copy of the study on the impact of radiation on living beings and environment was also sought. 

Blanket permission 

The UDD, which came out with a reply, albeit an incomplete one, provided a copy of guidelines framed by the Union government on installation of Base Transceiver Station (BTS) towers. The guidelines show that a blanket permission has been given to instal telecom towers wherever telecom companies want them. 

The first two guidelines say, “There should be a single-window clearance in states/local bodies to accord approval for BTS tower installations to avoid undue hardship to telecom service providers. The service provider should have unrestricted right to instal mobile towers, irrespective of land usage, after entering into a legal contract with the owner.” The state and local body should give priority to granting electricity connections for cell sites. 

Since the information provided was incomplete, this reporter approached the Karnataka Information Commission. During a final hearing on the case on Thursday, the UDD said in a written reply that it had provided whatever information was available with it and that it did not have anything more. In a way, the UDD agreed it has neither fixed any radiation limits nor is there any provision for checking and penalising telecom firms if radiation limits and the guidelines are violated.

Govt aware of hazards 

The government is aware that the electromagnetic fields of telecom towers pose serious health hazards to children and patients. But it has not fixed any radiation limits. The guidelines do not allow for setting up of base station antennas in schools and hospitals “because children and patients may likely be more susceptible to electro-magnetic fields. Indoor building solutions of low wattage may be deployed.” 

The guidelines say the government should avoid giving permission to set up towers in narrow lanes in order to reduce the risk caused by earthquake or wind-related disaster. They, however, do not define ‘narrow lanes’. Narrow roads, as per the BDA, are 20-30 feet wide. There have been examples of towers coming up on buildings which are just 20 or 30 feet wide. 

Reacting to the flawed policy, social activist B M Shivakumar said, “These telecom firms have evolved into a mafia. The BBMP, which should help the people, is serving the telecom firms.” A BBMP official expressed the civic body’s inability, saying the Union government has given “blanket permission” to set up telecom towers wherever the firms want them installed. 

“We have no role in installing telecom towers. The government’s directions are clear: heavy telecom towers are not commercial structure and are out of property tax ambit,” a senior Palike engineer said. 

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