A petition filed recently in the Delhi High Court seeking the removal of mobile phone towers from the vicinity of schools, colleges and residential localities has highlighted the lack of adequate regulatory mechanisms to deal with hazardous radiation. The writ petition, filed by Sriniwas Sharma, a resident of Pitampura, points out that the towers emit harmful radiation. Sharma’s family was allegedly affected by radiation emitted from one such tower; his elder son died of cancer in 2012. The High Court issued notices to the Union of India and the Delhi government on March 8 on the matter.

Vikas Nagwan, the advocate representing Sharma, highlighted the lack of a coherent policy to check emissions from radiation towers. He said: “We filed RTI [Right to Information] applications before different government departments asking about the policy on installation of mobile towers in residential localities. The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India, in reply to the RTI application, informed us that TRAI has not issued any guidelines regarding the erection of mobile towers in residential areas. We have not received replies yet from other government departments.”

A number of studies illustrate the harmful effects of mobile phone tower radiation. A study titled “Report on Cell Phone Tower Radiation Hazards” by Sujoy K. Guha and Sudarshan Neogi of IIT Kharagpur states: “The base stations are connected to directional antennas that are mounted on the roofs of buildings [RTT, or Roof Top Tower, and RTP, or Roof Top Pole] or on ground based towers (GBT). The antennas may have electrical or mechanical down-tilt so that the signals are directed towards ground level. Large numbers of these towers are mounted near schools, hospitals, residential and office buildings to provide good mobile phone coverage to the users. These cell towers transmit radiation 24×7, so people living within 100s of metres from the tower will receive 10,000 to 10,000,000 times stronger signal than required for mobile.”

The Rajasthan High Court, while deciding a PIL petition in August 2012, had cited an inter-ministerial report that details a number of studies on the adverse effects of mobile radiation on health. Also, in several significant judgments the Supreme Court has extended the constitutional right to life to include the right to a healthy environment, including in “M.C. Mehta vs Kamal Nath” in 1997. However, the government is yet to formulate concrete measures to address this serious public health concern.

Sagnik Dutta