In his statement to the Times of India, Rajan S Mathews, Director General – Cellular Operators' Association of India (COAI), has confirmed that telecom operators in Mumbai have removed 86 cellphone towers from atop buildings. Mathews said the decision came after residents complained against the proximity of these towers. He added that operators have taken steps to ensure reduced radiation (within permissable limits) from the towers. Incidentally, Department of Telecommunications (DoT) sources shared with TOI that 61 base trans-receiver stations (BTSs) in Mumbai had exceeded the permissible radiation levels, and that notices had been issued to the companies 'seeking corrective action'. The 'corrective action' here, according to the report, would be either reducing the radiation levels or repositioning or removing the towers altogether.  


Proximity to these towers may pose health risks (Image credit: Getty Images)

Reportedly, the DoT has received 400 complaints from Mumbaikars over cellphone towers, 200 of which have been reportedly checked. Recently, a COAI delegation led by Mathews got in touch with Municipal Commissioner Sitaram Kunte, and the former was quoted as saying, “Kunte told us that the draft policy pertains to norms for civil construction and not purported health issues arising from electromagnetic radiation (EMF). Kunte clarified that since EMF was a matter regulated by DoT, BMC would only abide by DoT guidelines while drafting the policy.”

Mathews added that according to Kunte, 1,800 towers were deemed 'illegal' because they did not posses the civic permission for installation atop buildings, and not because they were non-compliant with the safety norms. 

Kunte reportedly was informed that although operators submitted paperwork and fees, the towers were deemed illegal because the BMC did not accept the applications and process them on time. BMC reportedly will upload names of illegal cellphone towers and their operators across each ward on its website. 

Recently, new radiation norms were adopted by India and the Department of Telecommunication (DoT) had set September 1 as the deadline for the telecom operators to adhere to them. As per the new norms, the operators were mandated to reduce the radiation levels by 1/10th of the current levels, thus making it 0.9 watt/m2. Furthermore, it was announced that operators who were found flouting these rules would be heavily penalised. 

While many welcomed this news, the critics were quick to point out that even this was not safe. There has been an ongoing debate about whether the radiation being emitted from the mobile phone towers can be a cause of cancer. The answer to this question is a tricky one as the scientific data available to date doesn’t clearly state whether or not radiation emitted from the mobile phone towers can cause cancer. Even the WHO report terms it a probable factor. Government officials as well as the operators are using the lack of proper scientific evidence as a defensive shield to fend off critics.  

Even with the absence of scientific data to determine their role, there are many who are convinced that these towers are indeed death traps. And their belief is backed by the instances that have been witnessed in the country, be it the Kaiswal family from Jaipur, where three family members were detected with cancer after installation of mobile phone towers five metres away from their house, or the Usha Kiran building in Mumbai that cited three cases of brain tumour that were attributed to the mobile phone towers installed on the rooftop of an adjacent building. While some may shrug these off as mere coincidences, several housing societies have now come forward to protest against these towers.

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