Sunday, July 31, 2011

Towering trouble for hospital

Midday 27 July 2011

Fearing radiation hazards, Santacruz hospital sends notice to neighbouring building, whose terrace is packed with mobile towers

The mushrooming of cellular antennae in residential areas, and the potential health risks they pose by emitting radiation incessantly, have come under the scanner again, this time from a hospital in Santacruz.

The BCJ Hospital and Asha Parekh Research Centre, contiguous with the Ratna Deep Cooperative Housing Society (CHS), has sent a notice to it, asking for the cell towers on its rooftop to be removed.

The hospital authorities believe that if the persistent radiation level is not controlled, it can imperil patients in critical care, whose immune systems are already weak.

N A Mulla, director of the hospital's administration, said, "Our hospital caters to low income group patients and their safety is our utmost priority. We will ask the societies concerned to shift the cell towers if they are found to be dangerous."

The facility's management sent the notice to the adjoining society on SV Road yesterday. The chairman of the society was not available for comment.

But Narendra Sharma, a member of the CHS, received the hospital's letter. "Some of the towers were installed 8-9 years ago by Mahanagar Telephone Nigam Limited.

The rest are by other service providers. If found unsafe, I will request society members to remove them," Sharma said.

There are 21 flats in this small society and several GSM antennae have been installed on the building's roof.

'Check sprouting towers'
The hospital's objections come in the backdrop of a report submitted by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) to the state health department and the Urban Development Department (UDD) on radiation risks.

The DoT, concerned with the progressively growing number of such antennae accompanied by the increasing subscriber base of cellphone operators, had appointed a committee of ministers to look into the issue.

At last count, there were around 4,000 cell towers across the city, transmitting radio frequencies round the clock.

The Health Department received the report and has forwarded it to the UDD, which is yet to take any action on the situation in the city. "The report of the DoT-appointed inter-ministerial committee is with the UDD.

The decision is pending. Since the matter of allowing structures on terrace is under the purview of the UDD, revised rules and regulations are expected," said an official from the health department.

The report (which MiD DAY accessed) recommends limiting the installation of cell tower antennae in the vicinity of schools, hospitals and playground. It goes on to propose a comprehensive study on the radiation effects.

But experts are convinced of the damage it causes to the human body (see box)

Currently antennae and structures are built on terraces by obtaining permissions from the BMC's Building Proposal Department.

But following DoT's report, UDD is expected to revise the norms of allowing antennae atop housing societies soon.

Money matters
A primary concern with installing the towers on housing societies is the economics involved.

Lured by big kickbacks from service providers, residential buildings are allowing cellular service providers to install the antennae in exchange for hefty rental charges, risking the lives of inhabitants and neighbours, experts said.

On an average, any small society can accommodate 3-6 providers at one base station, easily making up to Rs 10-20 lakh a year.

Mobile service providers hire an independent agency to install and maintain GSM antennae on buildings. They identify potential sites to install radio base stations.

The establishment that hosts the antennae gets a rent of Rs 2-5 lakh a year, depending on the agreement, the locality and subscriber base in the vicinity.

Ratna Deep Society's Sharma didn't disclose the amount the society receives from providers, but did mention that it is meager.

Radiation risks
Professor Girish Kumar, an IIT-Bombay professor researching the biological effects of electromagnetic radiation for 30 years, said, "The microwave radiation effect can be classified as thermal and non-thermal.

Symptoms of thermal effect include fatigue, cataract, and reduced mental concentration. Effects of non-thermal are sadly ignored, since the current exposure safety standards are solely based on the thermal effect."

Since independent agencies install antennae for several service providers, a housing society gets rent from each service provider independently.

The installing agency takes care of everything including the power arrangements, civil and structural works.

Following the advance payment, a long-term agreement is signed with the society and access to that portion of the terrace is restricted.

Officials speak
Officials have been vague when it comes to addressing the situation.

"The study of radiation from cellular antennae and mobile handsets is still going on and we haven't reached any conclusion on its ill-effects," said a TRAI advisor.

Dr D S Dakhure, director, Medical Services of Maharshtra, said, "Is there any such tower on any government hospital? Anyway, I am busy with the Monsoon Session of the Assembly."

The Other Side

"MTNL installs and maintains antennae for GSM cellular services in the city. The maximum limit of radiation is 20 watts and is never exceeded.

All the antennae are safe and a report on the radiation level is submitted to the DoT regularly," said a spokesperson for MTNL, which has several cell antennae in the city.

Indus Towers Limited, a leading installation company, has set up over 10,000 towers across the nation. One of its officials said, "The towers installed by Indus Towers are very much safe."


Housing societies in areas like Malabar Hill and Colaba in the island city, and Ghatkopar and Andheri in the suburbs can fetch the highest amount of revenue through tower installation deals with cellular service providers


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