The department of telecommunications (DoT) ordered the immediate closure of 11 towers in Mumbai that it found violating radiation norms set earlier this month.
DoT ordered the closure of the towers—belonging to Airtel, Vodafone, Idea Cellular, Reliance Communications, Tata Teleservices Maharashtra Ltd, Aircel and Loop Telecom—after its officers conducted a random verification of compliance to the new standards.
The action is likely to affect the services of the operators considering the towers are located in densely populated areas, industry experts said.
The functioning of the towers “may be resumed only after the sites are made compliant” and have been verified by the Telecom Enforcement, Resource and Monitoring (TERM) Cell Unit in Mumbai, the Press Information Bureau said in a statement on Thursday.
Romal Shetty, partner and head of telecom practice at consulting firm KPMG, said the government should give some time to the operators to comply with the norms.
“There are certain grey areas in the standards which also need to be clarified,” Shetty said, adding there could be a “huge” impact on the operations due to this. “However, operators should start complying with the standards after some kind of punitive action has been taken by the authorities.”
DoT met all licensed telecom operators in Mumbai and directed them to comply with the radiation norms for the towers or face action.
Another expert with a telecom industry body said changes to radiation levels “can’t be done overnight”.
The expert, who did not want to be named, said that post the closure of the towers telecom operators may not be able to meet the standard of quality norms set by the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India.
“The industry has itself shut down some towers in places like Rajasthan as they were not complying with the norms, but full compliance may require more time,” this person said.
DoT set 1 September as the deadline for reducing electromagnetic radiation from telecom towers and mobile phones. The environment ministry, worried about the effect of mobile tower radiation on wildlife, issued an advisory in August on minimizing the impact of radiation from telecom towers on wildlife.
Earlier, in November 2011, DoT had accepted the recommendations of an inter-ministerial committee on lowering radiation limits based on the guidelines of the International Commission for Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection.
For handsets, the panel suggested lowering the radiation limit to 1.6 watt per kg from 2 watt per kg, and for towers by one-tenth the existing limit.
The committee comprised officials and experts from DoT, the Indian Council of Medical Research, the department of bio-technology, and the ministries of health and environment and forests.
“The site in question is very marginally over the much tightened safety limits. The same will be corrected on priority,” telecom industry body Cellular Operators Association of India said in a statement.
It added that telecom operators were working under tight deadlines to re-align their networks to provide desired quality of service and coverage while bringing down the radiation levels as prescribed by DoT. “We look forward to working closely with TERM to manage all such issues and to ensure that the base transmitting stations emission comply with the new norms,” the operators association said.
None of the telecom companies replied to an email sent by Mint seeking comments.