Cover Story - Mumbai Mirror - 7 Jan 2012
Cell tower installation companies in a big bind
City’s signal drops as hsg societies cell out over health fears
• Situation changes from five years ago when housing societies welcomed the big bucks from cell companies; urgent need to get norms in place to limit and monitor radiation, say experts
September, 2011: Shankar Mahal society in Breach Candy gets rid of a cell tower that has been on its terrace for five years, and has been taking care of a large part of its maintenance cost.
January, 2012: Opposite Dadar station, Bakul building is embroiled in a tussle to have the cell tower, which been on its terrace since 2004, removed.
January, 2012: At Bandra's Perry Cross Road, the residents' welfare association has been circulating articles and reports talking about health hazards of cellular radiation, and dissuading its 45 societies from renewing contracts or installing new towers.
This situation is the exact opposite of how things were five years ago, when buildings were vying for have cell towers as a means of earning revenue. But recent reports about the possible hazards of cell-towers radiation is prompting a number of housing societies across the city to choose health over money.
This, in turn, is creating an odd conundrum wherein diminishing towers are being cited as one of the primary causes of network problems in large parts of the city.Sameer Sinha, a corporate communications official at Indus Towers, which manages the cell towers of leading companies such as Vodafone and Airtel, describes the situation as a “vicious circle”.
“There is lot of misinformation among societies. At our end we are finding facts regarding radiation and passing on the same to our clients. GSM is a European technology. Had there been fear or proof of health hazards, they would have not continued with it,” he said.
The fact, however, is that these disputes are now a world-wide phenomenon, with laws in several Western countries already banning the installation of towers near schools and playgrounds. And while there may be no official studies proving a link between radiation and health problems, there are also none that can conclusively deny it.
Residents of Breach Candy’s Shankar Mahal Society, for example, had a sudden rethink about the cell tower on their terrace after doctors told them that it could be the cause of acute health problems suffered by two residents – a 13-year-old boy who was diagnosed with lymphocytic leukaemia and a 66-year-old man who had kidney trouble.
Though they were getting Rs 6 lakh per annum as rent from the mobile company, they decided that the price they were paying in return was too heavy.
Sunil Majithia, a former secretary of the building, told Mumbai Mirror: “Once we were told that the illnesses could be due to the proximity to harmful radiation coming from the tower, we had no option but to get rid of it.”
This, however, led to people using the Vodafone service in the Breach Candy vicinity experiencing network problems. “For a good three months, we had no network, and even when we got some, the frequency was poor. Since I am running a full-time business, this caused me a lot of inconvenience,” Nihaal Bagadia, another resident of Shankar Mahal, said.
A similar tussle is now playing out at Bakul building on Senapati Bapat Marg. Building residents have been battling for over a year to get the cell towers removed from their building terrace. This month, seven years after a tower was installed on their terrace, they decided to not renew the contract.
“We have been following health reports which clearly indicate cell towers emit harmful radiation. Though the cell towers get us revenue, we have realised our health is more important,” said Dr Uday Shankar Rao, who stays on the third floor of the building.
If the tower is removed, approximately 70,000 commuters who come to Dadar station are likely to suffer because of no network.
With the situation getting worse by the day, cell companies say they’re finding it extremely difficult to maintain quality services in Mumbai.
The high cost of land makes it impossible for them to acquire open plots and erect towers, and towers on street lights and poles are “not feasible”. The only other option left is commercial complexes and slum rehabilitation buildings. “It’s relatively easier to convince owners of such buildings mainly because they’re conscious about revenues. But the problem is that not all of them are strategically located. The network of criss-crossing housing societies spread across the city are much better,” Sinha said.
“After Shankar Mahal residents asked us to go, for example, it took us two months to find an alternative site. Similarly at Bakul, we’ve been desperately trying to look for another society within 80 meter radius but haven’t found it yet. We do not want our end-users to suffer,” he added.
The crux of the problem, contended Girish Kumar, a professor at IIT, was that service providers were not following proper radiation norms.
“Several studies across the globe, and my own study, have said that higher radiation levels pose a hazard to citizens. The government must enforce strict rules and regular monitoring must be done by a third party,” he said.
“The rate at which residents are refusing to allow towers atop their buildings, there will be no towers left in the city and all cell users will be at receiving end. We must face the truth that cell phones are a necessary evil and come up with a comprehensive policy to ensure they don’t harm us.”
Read more: http://www.mumbaimirror.com/article/15/20120107201201070225293124c40fcf6/City%E2%80%99s-signal-drops-as-hsg-societies-cell-out-over-health-fears.html