Mobile phone towers are omnipresent in India today. Every nook and corner has one standing atop buildings or on the ground in some places too. Urban Indian landscape has become conspicuous of these tall metal structures. They are the ones that provide your mobile phone the network connectivity. Mobile phone operators select vantage points to erect their towers and renting rooftops is a cost efficient option to them. It is common for building owners to rent out their terrace or open spaces for the erection of these towers to earn some passive income. Housing societies are no exceptions in this regard.
Societies need funds for maintenance and up keep of their premises; from the common lightings to the security and the cleanliness of their premises. They have two sources to build this fund namely, the society charges levied on residents and income from renting out portions of the common areas.
With urban space being valuable, usage of every square inch must be thought through; the maximum benefit should be derived from the ownership of such spaces. Housing societies therefore look to earning income from renting out their common areas for generating the much needed revenue. One such option is renting out the rooftops to mobile / telecom companies.
Though mobile towers generate revenue, a number of residents voice their concerns about the possible hazards from these. The hazards are perceived from multiple angles. One is the physical damage that these heavy structures can cause to the building, especially during natural calamities like a storm or cyclone.
The other concern involves the health hazards posed by the radiation of electromagnetic waves from these towers.
Though people are happy with seamless connectivity facilitated by the mobile towers, concerns arise from having a tower in their own backyard or terrace. So far, there is no conclusive medical evidence about mobile towers causing any health issues. There are however feared possibilities of the waves from these towers interfering with the natural biological functioning of people.
Cancer is perceived to be the biggest health risk that is suspected to be caused by the electromagnetic radiation from these mobile towers. Apart from this major concern, there are also minor ones believed to be caused by the waves from the mobile towers. Body fatigue, sleep / memory disorders, joint pains, hearing problems and even cardiovascular complaints are sought to be linked to the evils of the mobile towers. It merits reiteration that there is no conclusive medical evidence as yet to support these suspicions.
Response from the industry and regulator
Feedback from the Cellular Operators Association of India, the industry association of major Indian telecom operators and Department of Telecommunications (DoT) also confirm lack of conclusive evidence on health issues being caused by mobile towers. The findings of the American Cancer Society (ACS)1 too seem to support this view and goes to alleviate some of the health concerns. The societies aver that since antennas are mounted at a higher altitude atop the mobile towers, the health hazard posed by these is negligible at the ground level. And since these towers transmit waves intermittently, the danger is not all pervasive. On the possibility of cancer, ACS is of the view that the energy levels from the mobile waves is relatively low when compared to other cancer causing waves like gamma rays, x-rays and UV rays.
Current norms in India
The Department of Telecommunication (DoT) of the government of India issues model norms and guidelines2 on the erection of mobile towers in India. The state governments and municipalities are expected to prescribe the precise norms at the local level based on these model guidelines. There are norms with respect to distances between towers, height and location of antennae near buildings, electromagnetic emission norms etc. The Telecom Enforcement Resource and Monitoring (TERM) under the DoT deals with the radiation related technical aspects of these towers.
What should you do?
Irrespective of the scientific conclusions, it pays to be vigilant and prudent when it comes to mobile towers. Adherence to norms and guidelines, keeping safe distances from these towers, etc. would go a long way in managing the health concerns. Earning income from the mobile towers needs to be balanced with the concerns emanating from these towers.