Alarm bells on silent mode

26CELL PHONE TOWER.jpg.crop_display.jpg

A day after the National Green Tribunal passed orders on Union ministries of telecom, environment and health, seeking details about the health hazards likely to be caused by cellphone towers and on the violations, scientists and biologists express that very little has been done by the Tamil Nadu and Central governments on the alarming issue.

“In the name of development, cellphone towers have mushroomed across the state for private profit. Except for BSNL towers, most private cellphone towers exhibit alarming levels of electromagnetic radiation which is above the prescribed limit. We are yet to monitor such radiation in Chennai,” said RTI activist V. Sathiabalan, who also served as a telephone advisory committee member–Chennai.

The excess radiation not only affects the health of people but also makes sparrows and bees disappear from the city, according to biologists and ornithologists.

But till date, no concrete study has been done to explain the impact of radiation on Chennai’s biodiversity, said Mr Venkatesh Balas­ubramanian, department of engineering design, Indian Institute of Technology Madras.

“A scientific study is needed now to find out the impact of radiation from the mobile phone towers. At present, no conclusive study has been done in Chennai city regarding the impact.

The Union environment minister could propose a scientific study to come out with objective results on this issue.

As a Chennaiite, I see many mobile phone towers in residential zones. We cannot talk about health problems with certitude in the absence of research,” he adds.

According to Mr G. Kamaraj, biologist, Gui­ndy National Park, birds do not tolerate pollution: a few of them may adapt to a certain degree, but not to extremes.

Except for the crow, a majority of the indigenous birds have become rare or endangered in Chennai owing to unchecked urbanisation and depleting greenery.

The disappearance of indigenous birds and bees are attributed to the radiation effect from cellphone towers and this needs a detailed study, he added.

Towering loss to state exchequer

Cutting across party lines, the councillors of local bodies opine that the state government and local bodies have failed to evolve a proper system in streamlining the cellphone tower issue in and around Chennai, resulting in loss of several crores to the exchequer.

“Additional taxes were proposed for cellphone towers four years back, but the then authorities pickled the idea. If it had been implemented, the city corporation would have made an additional revenue of at least Rs 10 crore per annum,” explains Mr Saidai Ravi, former opposition floor leader of the city corporation.

The civic body also passed a resolution favouring the collection of taxes from buildings with cellphone towers, but, for some reason, the proposal failed to take off.

It was planned to collect Rs 30,000 per building on an annual basis. Or at least the leased area on which the tower stands should be calculated on commercial basis, he adds.

“The lethargic attitude and callousness of the then municipal authorities had benefited several tax evaders. Even adjacent Alandur and Ambattur municipalities decided to levy tax from house-owners who have rented out their terrace for cellphone towers, but due to lack of enforcement and bureaucratic hurdles, the proposal of charging tax from about 2,000 cellphone towers was delayed in these suburban areas,” a senior AIADMK councillor of the Chennai corporation said.

According to Tambaram municipal sources, more than 100 towers are present in Tambaram limit and the issue of collecting additional tax for cellphone towers is hanging in the balance.

Corporation commissioner D. Karthickeyan told DC the civic body identified more than 3,000 cellphone towers in Chennai prior to the expansion.

Now, with the merger of the suburban areas, there might be closer to 5,000 cellphone towers. After the corporation planned to revise the property tax for such structures, the matter was put on hold owing to litigation.

Once the case is cleared, the cellphone towers would have stringent guidelines and any official recommendations by the state or Centre will be implemented, the top official added.

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