Thursday, June 27, 2013

Red alert as radiation plug bid fails
By Subhro Niyogi, TNN | Jan 29, 2013
KOLKATA: The TOI report on Karnani Mansion residents being subjected to dangerously high levels of cell-tower radiation brought the telecom infrastructure firm that owns and operates the towers scrambling to the Park Street address on a damage control mission on Monday.

But even as the technicians went about trying to reduce the radiation, a group of activists followed them with a radiation-level meter that mostly stayed red - dangerously high - and sometimes yellow. But never once did the meter glow green - safe.

The Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR) has decided to move the state human rights commission to protect the 300-odd residents of Karnani Mansion. Two hundred of them are children.

TOI talked to one of the dozen technicians on damage control mode. "We have been working here since Sunday to determine the intensity of power transmitted from the towers and reduce it without affecting service so that those residing nearby are not harmed," he said, refusing to disclose his name or spell out the remedial actions.

Sources said men contracted by Indus Towers - the company that owns and operates most telecom towers in Kolkata and elsewhere in India - were trying to adjust the direction of the GSM antennas to temporarily reduce the intensity of power.

When TOI contacted Indus official Himon Sanyal, who is in charge of cell sites in the state, he refused to comment, saying: "I am not authorized to speak."

The technicians' attempts failed as there are just too many antennas - 40, of which 26 are GSM and the rest microwave.

Tapas Das, who has been campaigning on the issue for several years, found high intensity radiation in the south-east corner of the roof and other pockets. The gadget - manufactured by IIT Mumbai to detect the radiation intensity as per the Bio-Initiative Report - persistently flashed red, signalling high intensity.

"The entire southern half of the terrace has high level of radiation that is a health hazard in the short-term. The rest of the terrace has medium radiation where prolonged exposure can cause health hazard. But since women and children are living in the radiation zone 24x7, the threat is magnified," said Das.

IIT Bombay professor and cell radiation expert Girish Kumar, who has been studying the effects of non-ionizing radiation for a decade, warned that people living in the high intensity radiation zone were in danger of suffering infertility, miscarriage and cancer. "Beginning with headache, irritation, lack of concentration and memory loss, the problem gets complicated with continued exposure over time," he said.

According to Kumar, standards adopted by various countries show that telecom coverage is possible at much lower levels. "We must reduce transmitted power at once. The coverage area will shrink, requiring companies to put up more towers or install repeaters. The firms are aware of the health risk, but ignore it because acknowledging the problem will mean additional investments," the IIT professor said.

Very few cell sites comply with the new government guideline of 0.92 watt/sq m set. But since this exposure to radiation is safe for 60 minutes a day, 24-hour exposure means exceeding the safety limit 12 times.

Pushpa Mullick, who lives right under a tower with several antennas, has been suffering from chronic sleeplessness and stomach ailment. "The problems kicked off after the towers were installed," she said.

S Vijaya, who lives within 10 metres of a tower with the maximum cluster of antennas, suffers from sleeplessness and wakes up with a throbbing head each morning. "Since the quarters are small, we have to sleep out. Such is the noise from the tower's generator room that I have developed hearing problems," he said.

There are no barriers on the roof to mark out the hazard zones. Only the warning sign: 'Beyond this point, radio frequency fields exist that exceed rules for human exposure' is fixed everywhere on the terrace - even on the roof of the very houses where families have been living for decades.

Ranjit Sur, APDR secretary (BBD Bag branch), said the situation at Karnani Mansion was a glaring example of human rights violation and callous attitude of government in radiation matters. "We have decided to take the matter to West Bengal Human Rights Commission as a serious modern day rights issue. We will also take up the matter with state, civil and police administration," he said.

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