Indian government has extended by five months the deadline for cutting radiation from cellphone towers by 90%, the government informed the Lok Sabha today.
The directive cutting radiation limits for cellphone towers was issued after a multi-year consultation between the government, the industry, scientific bodies and consumer associations.
The directive was supposed to come into effect in April this year. But this has now been extended to September 1, minister of state for communication and IT Milind Deora said.
He said the step was taken after the government got ‘representations’ from cellular operators and their associations.
“Representations were received from Cellular Operator Association of India (COAI) expressing concerns on lowering of EMF radiation norms,” he said.
Electromagnetic radiation or EMR is a method of sending energy through the atmosphere using an antenna (such as those on the cellphone towers.)
When a current is passed through the antenna, it emits ‘pulses’ of energy, which travel through the air to great distances.
Higher energy EMR, such as gamma and beta rays, tend to behave more like particles — traveling in straight lines etc.. Lower energy radiation, such as the Microwaves used by the cellphone industry, travel more like waves in water, moving in an enveloping or spreading motion.
As a result, microwave radiation from cellphone towers is able to reach inside homes and vehicles and penetrate light objects.
While higher energy (higher frequency) radiation is known to cause cancer, no one is quite sure where to draw the line.
It is assumed that microwaves do not ‘ionize’ or knock electrons off molecules and are therefore safe for humans. However, it is also proven than microwaves can heat up matter (like a microwave oven and some phones do.)
Some scientists believe that if the exposure is continuous, long and of high intensity, the energy from the cellphone radiation gets transferred to human tissue. The transferred energy then increases the ‘energy levels’ of human tissue and molecules and can cause burns. Some, however, believe it can also cause genetic mutation.
Genetic mutation can result in improper or disorderly multiplication of cells — a condition known as cancer.
As such, regulatory agencies around the world have set limits on how much radiation can be emitted by devices such as cellphones and towers.
The problem is more acute in India as many cellphone companies have put up towers on top of residential properties, such as apartment complexes, or on top of shopping centres or office complexes — exposing those living nearby to radiation day in and day out.
In addition, some Indian operators have tried to cut costs by having one tower cover as big an area as possible. To do this, they prefer to use high-power antenna.
As part of its consultation, government of India appointed an expert committee, which did not find any conclusive evidence that cellphone radiation caused cancer. However, it urged caution on the matter.
However mobile operators opposed tightening tower-related norms.
As the matter was considered too serious and complicated to be handled by either the department of telecom or the ministry of health alone, it was left to an Inter Ministerial Committee (IMC) on the subject.
Deora said the Inter Minister Committee recommended to reduce the maximum power of cellphone towers by 90%.
“Telecom service providers raised concerns regarding the increase in the exclusion zone due to lowering of emission norms and impact on the area coverage of the BTS [cellphone tower].
“Accordingly, for examination of the impact on area coverage and exclusion zone, the effective date of these directions, which was initially 1st April 2012, has been extended to 1.09.2012,” Deora said