Worried about reports of a clear link between serious ailments and strong radiation emanating from mobile towers, the government has taken a tough stance and will start random testing of towers in November, with a huge penalty proposed in case of non-compliance with norms.
"Nationwide random testing of radiation emitted by mobile towers will commence from November 16, 2010, onwards by the Department of Telecom (DoT) and operators not complying with defined norms will be punished," Minister of State for Telecom and IT Sachin Pilot said.
The minister recently held a meeting with the telecom companies and other stakeholders and had ordered self-certification of radiation levels at all towers by the telcos by November 15, 2010.
The telcos were asked to submit the certificates to the TERM (Telecom Engineering and Resource Monitoring) cells of the DoT by November 15, 2010.
Pilot had earlier warned the telcos that non-compliance would result in the levy of a fine and penalty of Rs 5 lakh for each mobile tower.
The electromagnetic emissions of mobile towers in India are governed by guidelines drawn from the recommendations of the International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (ICNIRP).
The government has made service providers liable for strict adherence to internationally accepted limits for mobile tower radiation.
Despite the government's tough stand, telecom operators are lobbying hard to establish that there is no linkage between disease and radiation from telecom towers, citing studies by scientific bodies like the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), a premier medical research organisation.
The telecom operators, through industry lobbies Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) and Association of Unified Telecom Service Providers of India (Auspi), have written to the DoT downplaying fears of a linkage between radiation from cellular towers and its ill effects on health.
In fact, they have cited a recent study by ICRIER which pointed to a significant positive correlation between an increase in mobile penetration and growth in output.
But the government is not convinced. Congress leader Manish Tewari had recently called for a scientific study on the health hazards of radiation from mobile towers to be conducted by the ICMR.
The stakes are big, as the demand for passive telecom tower network infrastructure is expected to spike, especially when telecom operators are in the process of rolling out third-generation (3G) mobile telecom services.