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Mobile towers cut down to size

Cellphone service providers can no longer install transmitters on any vacant terrace of their choice.

Deluged by complaints about cellphone towers being indiscriminately installed atop buildings in every neighbourhood, the environment department has come up with a set of guidelines for service providers.

The guidelines have been sent to cellphone companies operating across the state. The Union health ministry had issued a similar set of guidelines five years ago, which the companies chose to ignore.

“We have been receiving complaints about cellphone towers for a long time. The guidelines were prepared after we came across studies which say that radiation from these towers affects health,” environment secretary M.L. Meena said.

The official said his department would take action against violators under the Environment Protection Act. The act empowers officials to register an FIR, issue prohibitory orders and file a case.

The new rules bar cellphone service providers from installing towers on the roofs of schools and hospitals because children and patients are more susceptible to electromagnetic radiation than others. Towers also cannot be set up in narrow lanes.

“The base station antennas should be at least 3 metres away from the nearby building…. Access to (such) sites should be prohibited,” states the guideline, which also calls for warning signs to be put up near the towers.

Scientists say radiation from cellphone towers can cause cancer and genetic defects. Birds are affected, too.

“The distribution of birds like sparrow, common mynah and dove has been affected by electromagnetic waves from the towers,” said Aniruddha Mukherjee, the head of the environmental sciences department at Calcutta University.

Cellphone service providers were guarded in their reactions to the guidelines. A spokesperson for Vodafone, which has about 1,700 towers in Calcutta and another 3,200 in the rest of the state, declined comment. Airtel has approximately 4,000 towers in the state and Tata has around 1,000.

The chief law officer of the environment department, Biswajit Mukherjee, said the pollution control board had been receiving complaints about cellphone towers since 1998. But the decision to fix guidelines was taken only after an NGO complained last year about a tower being installed on the terrace of a girls’ school in Bally, Howrah.

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