Telecom ministry wants environment ministry to keep out of mobile radiation (EMR) rules

The alleviation of the alleged harmful effects of mobile towers (EMR) on human health has become more complicated with the Department of Telecom rebuffing a suggestion by the Ministry of Environment and Forests on the subject.

Apparently piqued over a recent directive by the environment ministry seeking new limits on the number of cellular towers, the Department of Telecom, which has traditionally overseen wireless infrastructure, has politely told the ministry not to interfere.

It may be noted that the environment ministry usually oversees issues of pollution and environmental degradation. It has recently raised concerns about the possible ill effects of mobile tower radiation, also known as electromagnetic radation.

Many Indian apartments and residences have cellphone towers on their roofs, leading to worries that the constant radiation (EMR) coming from these installations may harm human beings in the vicinity. In 2010, a group consisting of representatives of different ministries such as health, environment and telecom had suggested cutting the power of mobile radiation from towers by 90%. The suggestion was quietly implemented by the department of telecom three months ago.

However, in addition, the Ministry of Environment and Forests made a request to the department of telecom seeking new rules that would prevent new mobile towers from coming up within a 1 km radius of existing ones and make infrastructure sharing mandatory for telecom operators.

In a statement, the ministry of communications said it was “not interfering with the empowered Department in the matter of prevention of environmental pollution.”

However, it added, “as the issues relating to the Electro Magnetic Fields (EMF) radiation from mobile towers is being dealt by DoT, it has been indicated to Ministry of Environment & Forest that issue of directions on the same subject by different Department / Ministry may have complications and difficulties.”

The response can be seen as an attempt to protect its rights from encroachment by the ministry of environment. The telecom department is mostly in touch with the telecom operators while the environment ministry is often considered close to environmental organizations.

Environmental organizations and telecom operators have been at loggerheads over issues such as the use of diesel to power wireless towers.