A Public Interest Litigation seeking a directive to the government to establish guidelines to safeguard the health of the public from radiation emitting out of cell phone towers will be heard by the Supreme Court on Thursday. Vicky Nanjappa reports
The petition, filed by Lawyer-cum-activist Prashanth Bhushan seeks a directive to the department of telecommunications to establish an independent regulatory body to enforce the present safety norms regulating the electro-magnetic field radiation from base transmitting stations and to heighten the present norms.
The petition seeks enforcement of the current EMF radiation safety norms by abolishing self-regulation and establishing an independent regulatory authority to decide EMF radiation safety levels and to monitor and enforce its implementation; tightening the norms as per precautionary principle in order to bring them in line with the safety norms followed by other countries and proposed by independent scientific studies; making environmental impact assessments mandatory prior to installation of cell phone towers and banning installation of phone masts in highly populated areas, protected natural areas and in places where endangered species exist.
The petition states that cell phone technology has revolutionised the telecommunication scenario in India. Due to its several advantages, cell phone technology has grown exponentially in the last decade.
Currently, there are more than 50 crore cell phone users and nearly 4.4 lakh cell phone towers to meet the communication demand. The numbers of cell phones and cell towers are increasing without giving due care to its disadvantages.
All over the world, people have been debating about associated health risk due to radiation from cell phones and cell towers.
A cell phone transmits 1 to 2 Watt of power in the frequency range of 824-849 MHz (CDMA), 890 - 915 MHz (GSM900) and 1710-1780 MHz (GSM1800). A cell phone has a Specific Absorption Rating.
In the United States, 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, 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 crores of people use cell phones for more than an hour per day without realizing its associated health hazards.
A base station and its transmitting power are designed in such a way that mobile phone should be able to transmit and receive enough signal for proper communication up to a few kilometers. Majority of these towers are mounted near the residential and office buildings to provide good mobile phone coverage to the users.
These cell towers transmit radiation 24x7, so people living within 10's of metres from the tower will receive 10,000 to 10,000,000 times stronger signal than required for mobile communication.
In India, crores of people reside within high radiation zones.
In India, we had adopted radiation norms given by International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection guidelines of 1998 for safe power density of f/200, where frequency (f) is in MHz. Hence, for GSM900 transmitting band (935-960 MHz), power density was 4.7W/m2 and for GSM1800 transmitting band (1810-1880 MHz), it was 9.2W/m2.
The Inter Ministerial Committee constituted on 24.08.2010 recommended for lowering the mobile towers' EMF exposure limits to 1/10th of the existing prescribed limit. These new norms came into force on September 1 this year, but still fall short of solving the problems posed by cell tower radiation.
The ICNIRP guidelines clearly state that for simultaneous exposure to multiple frequency fields, the sum of all the radiation must be taken into consideration.
However, in India, we have applied this limit to individual carriers, so the radiation level exceeds by several times than even prescribed by ICNIRP guidelines, depending upon the total number of transmitters in that area Some of the people (especially older people, housewives, small children) living near the towers are exposed to this radiation 24 hours a day.