Are you aware of the ill-effects, especially on health, caused by the increasing number of mobile towers and resultant radiation levels in Bengaluru and other cities? Is there any government body to regulate the installation of cell towers? Are citizens allowed to know the actual level of radiation in a given area?
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In the backdrop of these questions, Surakshit Vatavaran has recently initiated an e-petition on Change.org to the Prime Minister of India for the establishment of a regulatory body to monitor cell tower installations and radiation levels. You can find their petition here.
Subhashree, Managing Trustee at Surakshit Vatavaran said, “We are looking to collect about 50,000 signatures. We plan to submit this at the PMO by end May-mid June, once the new government has been elected.”
Surakshit Vatavaran is a Bangalore-based NGO that promotes the safe use of technology, by spreading awareness about products and services associated with modern technologies, by means of workshops and seminars. This, they believe, will allow people make informed decisions with respect to living with, and around technology. They seem to be rather aptly named, as Surakshit Vatavaran translates to ‘safe environment’ in Hindi.
No information on public domain
As of now, there is very little information regarding cell phone towers – the amount of radiation emitted by them, their proximity to homes and the like – available in the public domain. This is what the petition seeks to change. Creating a regulatory body will enable citizens to find out the data on cell tower installations in their locality, their compliance to norms, the number of antennae installed in the towers and the power emitted by them.
The International Agency for Research in Cancer has classified ‘Radiofrequency electromagnetic fields (including radiofrequency electromagnetic fields from wireless phones)’, as a Group 2B carcinogen in May 2011. This classification includes substances, mixtures and exposure circumstances that are ‘possibly carcinogenic to humans’. Other items that feature in this classification include DDT, coffee, lead and low frequency magnetic fields, among others.
Can radiation cause cancer?
Several studies have been conducted to prove the relation between radiation from cell phone towers and cancer. One such study conducted in a city in Brazil in June 2013, stated that radiation from cell phone towers was related to over 7000 cancer deaths. In contrast, a recent study called the Mobile Telecommunications and Health Research (MTHR) programme in the UK, claims that ‘there are no evidence of risks to health from the radio waves produced by mobile phones or their base stations.’
Though studies have not conclusively proven that cell phone towers cause/do not cause cancer, radiofrequency electromagnetic fields being termed a possible cause of cancer in itself, implies that the long term effects are not known and therefore subsequent research needs to be conducted.
Scientific studies, regulatory body advocated
In the light of all this, Surakshit Vatavaran, asks for the following to be enforced in its petition:
Creation of a regulatory body to map the details of existing/proposed cell towers, and make information easily accessible to all citizens.
Scientific studies to determine if there any long term health effects due to cell tower radiation in India.
Policy framework to avoid unscientific proliferation of towers, especially near thickly populated areas.
Exploring the possibility of relocating the towers or reducing the power transmitted, where towers are located very close to densely populated areas.
The need for a regulatory body
Balaji Mahalingam, Technology Advisor at Surakshit Vatavaran, said that the establishment of a regulatory body in India was imperative. India has a very high population density, and licenses have been granted to multiple service providers. Sometimes up to ten providers have been granted license for a given service area.
In the absence of an independent regulatory body, many of these towers are operating on self-certification basis and are subject to random checks only, as against regular, periodic checks and certification by an independent regulatory body. He added that there have been cases in Mumbai, where citizens who have wanted to find out radiation levels, have had to pay Rs 4000. Once the enquiry was conducted, if the radiation levels came under the permissible limit, they had to forfeit the money. He also adds that it is the right of every citizen to know the level of radiation around him/her, and the duty of the government to make this information available.
Surakshit Vatavaran in its petition, says that while it is impractical to remove the towers, keeping in mind the indispensability that comes with cell phones, solutions for safe use of technology must be found and therefore the necessity for a regulatory body comes into play.
Balaji also said that it did not make sense protesting or calling for a complete ban on cell phone towers; that would simply be an alarmist approach, one that was unfair without substantial evidence that related cell phone towers to cancer. He added that having a regulatory body would act as a precautionary principle, rather than a preventive principle. He also said that this would enforce the monitoring and publishing of data related to cell phone towers, and in making that information easily available to the public.
It is evident that cell phone towers are here to stay, but there is certainly a case for regulations in terms of their location and levels of radiation.