Towering menace

in what is perhaps a first for India, a Mumbai civil court recently ordered a cellular phone service provider to dismantle one of its networking antennae from a residential apartment over fears that the device was causing radiation exposure. The latent message behind the directive is that mobile phone towers and base stations can be hazardous to human health.

The installation of such structures atop buildings, including residential ones, is not a new development. In fact, they are a prerequisite for enhancing connectivity. But urban areas across the country have witnessed a sudden surge in these units due to a sharp increase in mobile phone subscribers.

By August 2003, India had more than 10,000 base stations as compared to a mere 3,529 in August 2001, reveals Satyan Nayar, senior director, Cellular Operators Association of India, a representative body of the domestic mobile phone industry. "These figures do not include the structures of government-run entities such as Bharat Sanchar Nigam Limited (bsnl) and Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited (mtnl). Neither do they take into account a major private player, Reliance Infocomm Limited. Therefore, the actual number of the units would obviously be much higher,' points out Nayar.

What should, however, set the alarm bells ringing is that the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (trai), the nodal body for telecommunication services in the country, has no legal provisions to deal with the health aspect of the matter.
Getting entrenched It was in September 2001 that Bharti Cellular Limited, one of the industry's top service providers, approached the governing body of a 20-storeyed residential building located in Cuffe Parade, South Mumbai. The company wanted to place two-feet-high single-stick antennae on the roof of the building. Consequently, three such structures were installed on the 11th floor. In March 2002, Bharti approached the chairperson and secretary of the housing society for converting the building into a hub station for the whole of South Mumbai. The hub was installed and its operations commenced in the same month. A pact was inked between the company and the two office-bearers only later, in October 2002