Mobile towers at Sinakeithei: A boon or bane

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The main aim of this article is to disseminate awareness on the health hazards associated with mobile towers, especially those families who stayed nearby the tower at Sinakeithei and other Tangkhul villages of Ukhrul district.

The 21st century, the civilization characterized by a pinnacle of science and technology, innovation, communication and social media. For the first time in the history of civilizations, this civilization has made it possible to communicate face to face with people anywhere in the world through social media and applications like Whatsapp, google Meet and zoom. Mobile towers played a huge role in making this revolution possible. We become happy when developmental projects including mobile towers reach our place as this makes our communication life easier and more convenient (as in the case of mobile towers). We generally tend to ignore the negative effects associated with it probably because of the lack of awareness/information.

We should now start imagining that we are surrounded by an atmosphere of high-frequency radiation (mobile tower radiation) all around us that could pose many health hazards to our lives. As some mobile towers are installed just a few footsteps away from our houses, it certainly questions our conscious mind on its associated health hazards. Better to take necessary actions at the earliest than to wait for long-term health hazards as the prolonged exposure to such radiation could prove to be fatal in future.

This brief article would serve as a good piece of information and would help open the eye of some people who are not aware of the harmful effects of mobile towers radiations.

General understanding of radiations

For the layman’s understanding of mobile tower radiation, the explanation around radiations is presented as simplest as possible.

Two types of radiation are known today, one is ionizing radiation that has the potential to cause cancer. X-rays, alpha, beta and gamma radiation are the ionizing radiations. The other type of radiation is non-ionizing radiation and that includes all electronic gadgets like laptops/desktop/tablets, mobile phones, wi-fi routers, TV and mobile towers. Barring mobile tower radiation, these are low-frequency radiations, but they might pose health hazards like cancer and brain tumors when a human body is exposed to them for a long period. I would not delve into the type of towers and antennas associated with them, but let’s assume the fact that mobile towers emit radiations that pose potential health hazards to us.

Today, we should understand that among all these radiations, mobile towers are the major contributors of radiation in our immediate environment. Since the introduction of mobile phones and mobile towers, the spread of radiation has increased massively in our surrounding air. Before the arrival of mobile phones, radiation surrounding us was less as it was generated mostly from radio or television, that is low-frequency harmless radiation. But now that the mobile tower is erected very close to our houses and there have been many complaints/protests against the tower companies in different parts of India raising mostly health concerns, it is high time to rethink of towers erected in our villages.

Also read: Climate change in Ukhrul district: A myth or reality

The benefits and impacts of mobile towers on health and birds including the brief analysis of Sinakeithei village are presented below:

Benefits of mobile towers

Along with improved network, mobile towers also provide us some social and economic benefits, some of them are presented below:

1. It gives monthly income to the landowner, the rate of income depending on the location (rural or urban). Sometimes, free calls and internet facilities are provided to the landowner by the tower company.

2. It helps to connect better with family members, relatives, friends and other people of the world.

3. It helps an individual or group to establish or join online businesses that could help boost the socio-economic life of an individual or boost the village or region economy.

Impacts on health

The serious concern of mobile towers’ impacts is our health. WHO, Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) claimed that radiation from mobile phones and towers could be carcinogenic to humans and may also cause glioma, a brain cancer. Towers are more dangerous than mobile phones as they emit higher-intensity radiation 24×7. They also predicted long-term health hazards such as lower sperm count, birth defects and increase risk of heart attack as a result of prolonged exposure to mobile phones and mobile towers radiations.

Professor Girish Kumar, professor, department of electrical engineering, IIT Bombay remark, “disrupted sleep, headaches, dizziness, altered reflexes, depression, fatigue, joint pains, heart disorders, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson, DNA damage and cancers are just some of the health hazards of exposure to cell tower radiation.”

Studies in India have highlighted numerous health impacts of mobile tower radiation. In India, crores of people reside near mobile towers, so the vulnerability of consequential health impacts is high. A study in Bangalore found that people living nearby mobile station is showing a symptom of headache, irritability, nausea, appetite loss, discomfort, sleep disturbance, depression, memory loss, difficulty in concentration and dizziness. Another study in Kota city,  reported the rise of short-term and long-term diseases although there is no scientific evidence of harmful effects from mobile towers. The short-term diseases include headache, depression, sleep disturbance, nausea, fatigue; and long-term diseases include asthma, cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, multiple sclerosis and brain tumor.

In Jaipur, Rajasthan, two Kasliwal brothers belonging to a prominent jewelry business reported being diagnosed with cancer. They blamed the mobile towers installed in their neighbor as their family does not have a history of cancer. They said that both minor and major illness has become part of their lives and the lives of 50 other neighbors.

Impacts on birds

Not only humans but birds too have been impacted by mobile towers. With the proliferation of mobile towers, there has been a decline of urban bird diversity in the UK, especially house sparrows. The sparrow population in the country declined from 24 million to 14 million birds in 30 years.

A similar case was observed at Valladolid in Spain. A reduction in bird diversity and breeding couples was observed with several mobile towers installed between 1997 and 2007. Three species of birds completely disappeared during this period while others show a population decline. The productivity of White stork birds located far away from mobile towers was found higher than the nest located nearby the mobile towers. Similarly, in Belgium, many sparrows nearby mobile towers disappeared recently.

Indian cities too observed the same trend of dwindling bird population nearby mobile towers in different parts of the country. In Punjab, birds of different species observed a decline in breeding success close to mobile towers. A similar case was found in the town of Bijapurin in Uttar Pradesh. In the town Drug of Madhya Pradesh, the population density of 13 species of birds declined where 27 mobile towers were installed. In Chennai, four birds including house sparrow have virtually disappeared. Birds are known to be sensitive to high-frequency radiations and the mobile towers are found to be responsible for damaging the eggs and embryos of birds which eventually bring the bird population down.

Also read: The Captivity of Tribal Women in Northeast India

Mobile towers at Sinakeithei

Two mobile towers are installed at Sinakeithei village, one for airtel and another for the Jio network. One is installed in the forest far away from the village, and the other is installed at the core of the village. One tower is standing so close to some households, just a few metres distance; it becomes doubtful that a proper social/health and environmental impact assessment was not done before the installation, or was the installation done without the villagers’ consent? Even if it is erected with villagers’ consent, maybe, the villagers are not well-informed/aware of the health hazards associated with it. Science tells us that those who stayed nearest are the ones most vulnerable to health hazards and so it is a major concern for them.

The tower violates DoT (Department of Telecommunications, Ministry of Communications) guidelines. As per DoT guidelines, if a mobile tower has 1 antenna, it should be installed at a minimum distance of 20 metres from a house, in case of 2 antennas minimum distance should be 35 metres, for 4 antennas it should be 45 metres and for 6 antennas the minimum distance should be 55 metres. To be in safety mode, even the distance directed in DoT guidelines is also less; it is always better to stay as far as possible from mobile towers.

Apart from emitting harmful radiations from this mobile tower, it also creates noises consistently for a long duration when the electricity went off, and this creates irritation to ears to a passer-by or to those families who stay nearby.  Until now, there is no sign of health impacts of mobile towers in the village, however, the prolonged exposure to this tower can pose a serious health hazard to families staying nearby in future.

Human beings, in general, tend to believe only what we see with our naked eyes. But radiation is something which we cannot see with our eyes, and to realize earlier about the health hazards of mobile towers would only serve good to us. There are telecommunication officers and renowned agencies of the world stating that there is no scientific proof to conclude that mobile towers have impacted our health.  But it is we who would be facing the impacts of radiation, so we should have the right consciousness to decide where and how much distance should we erect the mobile tower. Nonetheless, the tower installed at the core of Sinakeithei village is not a constructive development as it poses various health hazards to families residing nearby it in particular, due to 24×7 exposure.

Cases of people complaints/protests in India

Many complaints/protests have already taken place in different parts of the country against tower companies for installing mobile towers very close to a residential area. Some of them are presented below:

In 2020, the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation pulled down a mobile tower at Fragrance Garden, Sector 26, after residents continued to protest against it for over a year. The mobile tower was built by the company even though the estate office had not permitted its installation. However, a no-objection certificate had been issued by the Chandigarh Municipal Corporation for the mobile tower, two months after the UT estate office had written to the additional commissioner, seeking action against the operator.

 In September 2021, residents of Dwarka Sector 9 protested against the installation of 5G tower in their residential pockets. They complained about the possible health hazards to children, senior citizens and pregnant women who are residing with their family members. They also complained the tower company that they installed the tower at night without any permission and the area comes under the greenbelt.

Similar complaints/protests were also observed at Shalimar Bagh, Tikri Kalan, Jahangir puri, Ludhiana, Gurugram, Panchkula, etc against tower installation close to the residential area raising mainly the health concerns.

Closing remarks

The bottom line of this article is – mobile towers are a boon if it is erected a bit far from residential areas or follow DoT guidelines, or they could turn out to be a bane if it is erected very close to our houses.

The readers of this article might have an impression that I am against the installation of mobile towers at Sinakeithei village or elsewhere in Tangkhul villages. I am not against it, my honest suggestion is that the mobile tower installed at the core of the village or elsewhere in Tangkhul villages of the same case if it happens to be; they should either be relocated far away from the residential areas or follow DoT guidelines, this is all my concern. I am not against any developmental projects in our region, but the development should come with proper socio-economic-environmental impact assessment and villagers’ consent should be taken into consideration before the commencement of such projects.

My task being a scholar and responsible citizen is to make villagers aware of the pros and cons of mobile towers. The necessary follow-up actions rest in the wisdom of the villagers.

I want to leave these questions for the reader as “food for thought”, Does the benefits of mobile towers outweigh the health hazards? Or are we willing to sacrifice the health of the villagers in the interest of a few?

Dr. Mirinchonme Mahongnao           

Also read: Hannah Lalhlanpuii: When Blackbirds Fly

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