Concerned over recent scientific reports on the harmful effects of radiation from mobile towers, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has decided to take stern action against erring operators. The DoT is now planning a crackdown on over one lakh towers that have failed to self-certify towers on radiation levels. DoT has also decided to look into upgrading relevant standards of radiation to make it even more stringent.

“We had started a special drive last year asking all mobile service providers to produce a self-certificate of their towers, but this mandatory procedure was not followed in case of over one lakh towers across India, out of a total of 5.62 lakh. We will now penalise erring operators who have failed to comply as the matter is related to the health of each individual,” Minister of State for Communications and Information Technology Sachin Pilot told The Hindu.

Pointing out that strict regulation of mobile towers was all the more important considering its exponential growth due to massive monthly addition of mobile subscribers, Mr. Pilot said the industry needed to self-certify each of their base transceiver stations (BTSs) by November last year, but over 1.3 lakh BTS have still not been self-certified. Now all telecom companies would face a penalty of Rs.5 lakh for each non-compliant base station.

“This issue cannot be taken lightly. We are concerned about possible health-related effects of radiation from mobile handsets and mobile towers and have been examining the issue in detail with a view to adopting guidelines which are in the best interest of the health of our people. However, till the time that new guidelines are implemented it is mandatory for the telecom providers to adhere to the prescribed guidelines, and any non-compliance would be dealt with in terms of prescribed penalties,” the Minister added.

Mr. Pilot also said that though India had adopted WHO-approved International Commission on Non-ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) guidelines, there were countries such as Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Switzerland, Russia, Italy, Poland, China and Belgium where the radiation density was even lower than ICNIRP levels.

“Compared to the population and health standards of these countries, threat to Indians from radiation is higher considering rapid growth of towers in our country,” he pointed out.

Acknowledging that there were at least two such reports on radiation submitted to DoT that have raised concerns, Mr. Pilot said: “We are also strengthening Telecom Engineering and Resource Monitoring Cells (TERM) under DoT to ensure effective monitoring of mobile towers. We are also in the final stages of implementing guidelines on mobile handsets. The Ministry of Commerce will soon notify that mobile handsets being imported should bear self-certification from manufacturers that they meet radiation standards. Similarly, Indian manufacturers will also have to follow similar guidelines,” he added.

Notably, Telecom Equipment Manufacturers Association (TEMA) had also raised the issue recently, alleging that high levels of radiation were being emitted from telecom towers and handsets. Blaming lack of regulations on radiation and other pollutants from telecom towers and equipment, TEMA president Rajiv Mehrotra asked why it was that the same foreign manufacturers who were implementing extremely low levels of radiation for their equipment in their countries were not using the same technologies in India. As per industry estimates, in India, the number of towers would go up from 3.4 lakh to 4.6 lakh and base stations from 5.6 lakh to 10.7 lakh by 2015, while minutes of usage would also see rapid increase, thus posing more radiation exposure risk for people.

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