- Telecommunications has been recognized the world-over as an important tool for socio-economic development of a nation. It has become core infrastructure required for rapid growth and modernization of various sectors of the economy. There has been a phenomenal growth of the telecom sector in terms of subscribers and usage over the past two decades in India. Today, India is amongst top three of largest and one of the fastest growing telecom markets in the world. The Indian telecom industry has grown from a tele-density of 3.58% in March 2001 to 84.88% in March, 2022. This great leap in both the number of subscribers and usage from telecom services has contributed significantly to the growth in GDP and employment.
- The next information revolution will be brought through the use of mobile broadband/ internet. However, the penetration of mobile internet is very low in country in comparison to other nations. Large investments and efforts from industry as well as Government are required to expand the mobile telephony related infrastructure, which include tower, with a view to expand the mobile telephony based services and take these to rural and remote areas. This needs to be done, so that the dream of broadband for all can be realized and benefit of this technology can be reaped by all sections of society. According to various reports, there is a direct correlation between increase in the penetration of mobile broadbandand the GDP of a country.
- Telecom towers are critical installations on which the backbone of mobile communication rests. These are essential for realizing the vision of inclusive growth. The success of initiatives like Digital India, Smart Cities and right to Broadband, which the Government intends to implement in mission mode, depends on this critical and essential infrastructure. Mobile communication plays important role in social and economic growth and disaster management for which mobile towers are a pre-requisite. A robust and scalable mobile infrastructure including towers is must for universal access to communication, effective delivery of services to citizens and financial inclusion. Realizing the significance of mobile towers, Government of India has included it in the harmonized list of infrastructure vide its Gazette notification dated 27-03-2012. Government had promulgated a new National Digital Communications Policy 2018 with an objective to prepare the country and its citizens for the future and seeks to unlock the transformative power of digital communications networks i.e. to achieve the goal of digital empowerment and improved well-being of people of India and towards this end, attempts to outline a set of goals, initiatives, strategies and intended policy outcomes. One of the strategies includes facilitating the establishment of Mobile Tower Infrastructure by way of extending incentives and exemptions for the construction of telecom towers.
- There is a public concern over possible health effects from Electromagnetic Field Radiation (EMR) exposure from diverse EMR sources especially Mobile BTS antennae (Mobile Tower). In this regard, several studies have been conducted in different countries, under the aegis of World Health Organization (WHO). There is no conclusive scientific evidence of adverse health effects due to low level RF emission from mobile phone towers. WHO has referred to approximately 25,000 studies, published around the world over past 30 years, and based on an in-depth review of scientific literature, has concluded: “current evidence does not confirm the existence of any health consequences from exposure to low level electromagnetic fields”. Since the effects on human beings are to be studied over a long period of time, further studies are going on around the world.
- With reference to Electromagnetic Radiation emanating from cellular mobile towers, World Health Organization (WHO) in its Fact Sheet No. 304, May 2006 on Electromagnetic Fields and Public Health (Base Stations and Wireless Technologies) has concluded that “considering the very low exposure levels and research results collected to date, there is no convincing scientific evidence that the weak RF Signals from base stations and wireless networks caused adverse health effects. From all evidence accumulated so far, no adverse short or long term health effects have been shown to occur from the RF Signals produced by base stations.” (Click Here)
- In September 2013, WHO in online question and answers have mentioned that "Studies to date provide no indication that environmental exposure to RF fields, such as from base stations, increases the risk of cancer or any other disease."
- In February, 2020, WHO has again clarified, in Q&A published on its website on “5G mobile networks and health”, that “To date, and after much research performed, no adverse health effect has been causally linked with exposure to wireless technologies.”, (https://www.who.int/news-room/q-a-detail/radiation-5g-mobile-networks-and-health).
- As part of its charter to protect public health and in response to public concern over health effects of EMF exposure, the World Health Organization (WHO) established the International EMF Project in 1996 to assess the scientific evidence of possible health effects of EMF in the frequency range from 0 to 300 GHz. The EMF Project encourages focused research to fill important gaps in knowledge and to facilitate the development of internationally acceptable standards limiting EMF exposure.
- Since the commencement of the EMF Project, over 50 national authorities have been involved. Apart from the national authorities, the project is overseen by 8 international organizations and independent collaborating institutions and together they review scientific information related to public and occupational health, and environmental management of the EMF issue. It is pertinent to note that many of these studies have been going on for years so as to understand the effect of EMF over the period of time and these studies are not specific to developed countries alone. While summarizing the key points on health effect of EMF radiation, WHO website mentions the following:
“…..WHO's International EMF Project was launched to provide scientifically sound and objective answers to public concerns about possible hazards of low level electromagnetic fields.
Despite extensive research, to date there is no evidence to conclude that exposure to low level electromagnetic fields is harmful to human health...”
- WHO recommended that “National authorities should adopt international standards to protect their citizens against adverse levels of RF fields. They should restrict access to areas where exposure limits may be exceeded.” WHO has referred to the international Exposure Guidelines developed by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) in same fact sheet No. 304, May 2006. The main conclusion from the WHO reviews is that EMF exposures below the limits recommended in the ICNIRP international guidelines do not appear to have any known consequence on health. The WHO says –
"All reviews conducted so far have indicated that exposures below the limits recommended in the International Commission for Non Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) 1998 EMF guidelines, covering the full frequency range from 0-300 GHz, do not produce any known adverse health effect. However, there are gaps in knowledge still needing to be filled before better health risk assessments can be made."
ICNIRP continually monitors the science to ensure its guidelines on safe exposure limits remain up to date.
- ICNIRP, in its report of April 1998, has prescribed the following levels related to power density, limiting EMF emission from Base Transceiver Stations (BTSs) as safe for general public:
Power Density (Watt/Sq.Meter)
400MHz to 2000MHz
2GHz to 300GHz
(f is the frequency of operation in MHz)
- ICNIRP has reviewed the radiofrequency EMF part of the 1998 Guidelines again in the year 2020 and summarized that “The only substantiated adverse health effects caused by exposure to radiofrequency EMFs are nerve stimulation, changes in the permeability of cell membranes, and effects due to temperature elevation. There is no evidence of adverse health effects at exposure levels below the restriction levels in the ICNIRP (1998) guidelines and no evidence of an interaction mechanism that would predict that adverse health effects could occur due to radiofrequency EMF exposure below those restriction levels.”
- Department of Telecommunication (DoT), since 2008, has been monitoring global developments and has taken necessary steps for safety from EMF radiation that are emitted from mobile towers. Government of India has been taking due precautions and necessary actions in respect of EMF radiation emitted from mobile towers by issuing various guidelines and norms taking into account the international standards/norms prescribed by International Commission on Non Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) as recommended by World Health Organisation.
- EMF safe exposure Limits from mobile towers adopted in India – Government of India adopted the above mentioned ICNIRP guidelines in the year 2008 for basic restriction levels of Electromagnetic radiation from Mobile towers and inserted the additional clause in the Access Service Licenses vide its amendment letter dated 4/11/2008. (DoT Letter dated 04-11-2008 regarding EMF radiation limits prescribed by ICNIRP)
- An Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) consisting of officers from DoT, Indian Council of Medical Research (Ministry of Health), Department of Biotechnology and Ministry of Environment and Forest was constituted on 24.08.2010 to examine the effect of EMF Radiation from base stations and mobile phones. The Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) in its report, has examined the environmental and health related concerns and has indicated that most of the laboratory studies were unable to find a direct link between exposure to radio frequency radiation and health; and the scientific studies as yet have not been able to confirm a cause and effect relationship between radio frequency radiation and health. The effect of emission from cell phone towers on human health is not known yet with certainty.
- Based on the recommendations by Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC), Norms for exposure limit for the Radio Frequency Field (Base Station Emissions) have been made further stringent and reduced to 1/10th of the existing limits prescribed by International Commission on Non Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). As per latest letter dated 26.06.2013 (DoT Letter dated 26-06-2013 regarding Amendment in EMF Radiation Limits), the present limits/level in respect of Power Density are reproduced below:
Power Density (Watt/Sq.Meter)
400MHz to 2000MHz
2GHz to 300GHz
(f = frequency in MHz)
- Review of exposure limits by Committee constituted in compliance of direction by Hon'ble High Court Allahabad:
- Hon’ble High Court Allahabad, Lucknow bench in Writ Petition No. 11275 (M/B) of 2010 filed by Shri Ram Singh Jauhari Vs UOI & Ors has given direction vide its order dated 10.01.2012 to the Government of India to constitute a committee to submit a report so that the Government of India may take necessary precaution while granting permission for establishment of mobile towers as well as to regulate sale of mobiles with necessary precautions.
- The committee had submitted its Report on 17-01-2014 and the same has been taken on record by the Hon’ble Court on 10-02-2014. The Committee observed that the Department of Telecom has already prescribed stricter precautionary limits for EMF radiation from mobile tower as well as from mobile handset/phones applicable as on date. After due consideration of the human health concerns on account of EMF radiation being raised in public and the Report of the Committee, the Government decided in February 2014 that the present prescribed precautionary EMF safe exposure limits are adequate and need no further change at this stage (Decision of the Government on the Report of Committee constituted on direction of Honble Allahabad High Court).
- License Service Area (LSA) field unit of DoT tests up to 5% of total BTS sites randomly. Additionally, the BTS sites against which there are public complaints are also tested by License Service Area (LSA) field unit of DoT. The testing is done as per procedures prescribed by Telecom Engineering Centre (TEC) from time to time. TEC has published the Test Procedure for measurement of EMF from BTSs latest being document no. TEC 13019:2021.
- That if a site fails to meet the EMR criterion, in case of a shared site, a penalty of Rs 20 lakh per BTS per incidence has been prescribed to be imposed on rogue BTS(s) (BTS whose exposure ratio/index is more than ‘1’) if the site becomes compliant after removing contribution of that rogue BTS(s). However, if the site is not compliant even after removing the contribution of that rogue BTS (s), then a penalty in proportion to the exposure ratio (Rs. 20 lakh x Exposure Ratio) is prescribed to be imposed on all the remaining participating BTSs. In addition to levy of financial penalty as mentioned above, if the BTS is not made compliant to the EMF radiation norms within 30 days by the erring TSP, the same is required to be shut down as per prescribed procedure.
- Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has been undertaking a nation-wide Awareness Programme on EMF Emissions & Telecom Towers to build a direct bridge of engagement between different stakeholders and to fill the information gap with scientific evidence. These Programmes have further been followed up at sub-state level by the LSA field units of DoT so that more and more people are made aware about the scientific facts on health effects of EMF emissions from mobile towers. Pamphlets/ Information Brochures on various topics related to EMF have also been published and distributed in various regional languages.
- Taking cognizance of several misleading messages being circulated on various social media platforms claiming that the second wave of coronavirus has been caused by the testing of the 5G mobile towers, Department of Telecommunications issued a press brief on 10/05/2021, clearing that these messages are false and absolutely not correct. In the press brief it has also been clarified that mobile towers emit non-ionizing Radio frequencies having very minuscule power and are incapable of causing any kind of damage to living cells including human beings. (Press brief dated 10-05-2021 clarifying impact on Health of 5G).
- Department of Telecom (DoT) has launched Tarang Sanchar, a web portal for Information sharing on Mobile Towers and EMF Emission Compliances, with a view to generate confidence and conviction with regard to safety and harmlessness of EMF Emission from mobile towers, clearing any myths and misconceptions. Portal can be accessed at www.tarangsanchar.gov.in. The EMF Portal provides a public interface where an easy map-based search feature has been provided for viewing the mobile towers in vicinity of any locality. By click of a button, information on EMF compliance status of mobile towers can be accessed. Detailed information about any tower site, if requested, will be sent on email to the users. Additionally, any person can request for EMF emission measurement at a location by paying a nominal fee of Rs 4,000/- online. Local License Service Area (LSA) field unit of DoT will conduct the test (the requestor can be present, if he so desires) and the test reports will be provided.
- The portal also has ‘EMF Overview’ and ‘Learn’ Sections, which provide numerous articles, booklets and videos, to further educate the citizens about EMF and coverage of telecom services. Public can also access the ‘DoT Initiatives’ section which has information on various leaflets, articles and Frequently Asked Questions. The portal has the complete collated technical details of all base transceiver stations (BTSs) spread across the country of all technologies (2G, 3G, 4G etc.) and of all Telecom Service Providers (TSPs).
- Department of Telecom (DoT) had issued guidelines for issue of clearance for mobile tower installation and the same has been forwarded to the Chief Secretaries of all State Governments and Union Territories on 23.08.2012. These guidelines were further revised with effect from 01.08.2013. These guidelines are technology agnostics and are not technology specific (DoT Guidelines to State Governments for NOC for installation of Mobile Towers).
- EMF radiations from a mobile tower, which are below the safe limits prescribed by ICNIRP and recommended by WHO, have no convincing scientific evidence of causing adverse health effects. These norms are not technology specific. Department of Telecommunications has prescribed stricter precautionary norms for exposure limit for the Radio Frequency Field (Base Station Emissions) which is ten times more stringent than the existing limits prescribed by ICNIRP and recommended by WHO. There are no separate norms for special localities like schools, hospitals and residential areas. Further, Government of India has taken adequate steps to ensure that Telecommunications Service Providers strictly adhere to these prescribed norms.
- Important documents/ links:
Link to Tarang Sanchar Portal