Radiation City


1,800 cell towers in 2006. 6,000 now. Bare minimum radiation levels in 2006. a thousand times more now. There’s a new threat in Delhi, reports Rishi Majumder

Tower lobby: Four telecom towers on the roofs of buildings opposite the Taimoor Nagar Gurdwara cause the EMR levels there to soar

REHAAN DASTUR, 46, is an engineer and an industrialist. he owns and runs a profitable Delhi-based boiler manufacturing company called Universal Boilers. So, it is safe to say he is a man of science and not prone to paranoia. Dastur was one of the first users of the cell phone in India. he bought his phone from Airtel in October 1997, 15 days before it was commercially released. Cell phone calls cost rs 18 a minute then. Dastur spoke on his phone for hours on end at times. He continued to use the phone even though it had fallen and had developed a crack, because cell phones then were expensive and the crack didn’t affect his phone’s efficiency.

Three years after doing this, in 2000, Dastur suffered a stroke that paralysed his body and distorted and froze his face. The doctor treating him at Delhi’s Apollo hospital told him he had Bell’s palsy, caused by Electromagnetic Radiation (EMR) emitted from the antennae in his cell phone. The emr travelled through the crack in the phone, into Dastur’s ears, nerves and brain.

After a month-and-a-half of treatment at the hospital and home, he returned to 95 percent of his former self. Ninety-five percent, because he is in danger of reverting to a paralytic state if he goes near a cell phone tower, or uses a cell phone for too long. “My body is the best device for measuring EMR,” he says. “If you take me blindfold through the city, I can point out where the cell towers are by the jangling I feel in my nerves as we pass them by.”

There is a cell phone tower on the roof of Dastur’s office in nehru Place, south Delhi, and another one facing his cabin windows from the other side of the road. so Dastur has converted his cabin into a war bunker. The ceiling and the wall with the windows have been sealed with sheets of lead. There are cell phone towers near his home as well. So Dastur has sealed his home too with lead sheets. “Lead is toxic,” he says. “Continuous exposure to it might damage the brain.”

Four-fiths of Delhi lives in unsafe zones. The October Commonwealth Games could be most radiation-filled ever

But, the EMR from the cell phone towers was too big a risk for Dastur’s paralysis and besides, even his family was dealing with increasing headaches, muscle twitching, involuntary limb movement, sleeplessness and other nervous system disorders. Dastur wrote often, asking the authorities to remove the towers. They did not. so he had no choice. Lead sheets were a lesser evil. “We are stuck between the devil and the deep sea.”

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s home is a ‘borderline’ zone. The headquarters of the Congress is highly unsafe

“People do not understand,” he says. “Because radiation, unlike air, water and sound pollution, cannot be seen or felt. most Indians have only started using cell phones over the past 10 years.” Dastur says he notices that his employees, like his family members, are already complaining of increasing headaches and extreme fatigue. “In five years, emr will be the number one killer after heart attacks.”


There is no other way to say this. Radiation levels of the non-nuclear kind in Delhi may have reached way beyond what humans can live with. Almost four-fifths of the metropolis has people living in the midst of radiation levels ranging from “borderline” to “unsafe” and “extreme anomaly”, which are highly unsafe. Only about a fifth of Delhi lives and works in the safe zone and that is almost entirely where the vvips reside. The October Commonwealth Games, over 12 days, could be the most radiation-filled sports event ever.

These are the findings of a TEHELKA survey of radiation levels in 100 spots across Delhi in the first half of May 2010. The survey is of EMR, the dominant form of radiation in human habitation. This is the first time such an extensive survey of 100 spots has been done for radiation anywhere in india, and it has been done in public interest exclusively for TEHELKA EMR has a public impact and an individual impact. it impacts a public area when it comes from antennae on cell phone towers, which are the principal source of EMR. Other sources of eMr, which have individual impact, are cell phones, wifi, Bluetooth, microwave ovens, air-conditioners, television sets, refrigerators and other home appliances. here, the risk is private because a person chooses to buy these products and this choice doesn’t affect anyone other than himself and his household..

In the case of eMr from cell towers, however, the risk to health is public. Therefore, Tehelka conducted the radiation survey in public places, with Cogent EMR Solutions limited, a Delhi based company that tracks the increase in eMr levels across india, and does radiation audits for telecom operators.

Cell radiation is slow poison. Effects begin with fatigue and could end in cancer. It is nearfatal for ones with pacemakers

The following are some of the findings of the survey. it is virtually a radiation map of Delhi.

 Forty of the 100 spots have “extreme anomaly” in radiation levels. This means the levels are close to seven times the safe limit. These are high risk areas. The readings were so high at times that the device used to measure the radiation, a High Frequency Analyser, could not record the radiation anymore

Thirty-one spots have “unsafe” radiation levels. This means the levels are two to six times the safe limit

● Nine spots are “borderline”, just over the safe limit

 Only 20 of the 100 spots surveyed in Delhi have safe radiation levels

 Connaught place and khan Market, two of Delhi’s top marketplaces, have extreme anomaly

 Safdarjung hospital, Modern School in Vasant Vihar, the Delhi Police headquarters, and the ISKCON temple fall in areas with extreme anomaly

The prime Minister’s residence, 7 Race Course Road, is in the borderline zone

The All india Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), india’s premier healthcare institution, is in a borderline area

 10 Janpath, where Congress president Sonia Gandhi lives, is safe

 Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit is safe at her official residence, 3 Motilal Nehru Place

The opening and closing ceremonies, and the athletics competition, of the Commonwealth Games will be held in unsafe areas

The Yamuna Sports Complex, where the Games table tennis and archery competitions will be held, is unsafe



Quick Transit To Dangertown

The Delhi Metro, another great beacon of progress, is also emitting levels of radiation that are beyond safe norms. This is another worrisome blind spot

Metro issue EMR from the Delhi Metro line risks public health in the localities it weaves through
Photo: AFP

BESIDES CELL PHONE TOWERS, another big emitter of electromagnetic radiation in Delhi is the metro. The EMR from metro power transmission lines affects the general public where the metro runs above ground. It runs by houses and marketplaces, endangering people in these areas just as cell phone towers do. At least that’s what the EMR readings of six spots near the metro line, conducted by Cogent in January 2010, seem to suggest.

The EMR at these spots was measured with an electric field strength metre. The maximum limit according to internationally accepted SBM 2003 standards is 5 volt/meter. A German society of scientists came up with these SBM Standards suggesting safe radiation levels for humans. However, the radiation readings at the six metro spots exceeded this.

● At Shastri Nagar Metro Terminal Complex, it was 11000 v/m
● Just beyond Yamuna Bridge on the Shahdara Line, the radiation was 3000 v/m
● Adjacent to Ashok Nagar Metro Station, the reading was 8200 v/m
● Adjacent to Mayur Vihar II Metro Station, it was 9000 v/m
● A building opposite Mayur Vihar I Metro Station registered 12000 v/m
● Outside Noida Sector 15 Metro Station, the metre read 11500 v/m

The hazards to health from electric and magnetic fields emitted in such neighbourhoods by the metro power line are the same as that from cell tower radiation. This means they could cause minor ailments like headaches and sleep disorders in the short term, and make people more prone to lifethreatening diseases like cancer in the long term. Constant exposure, in case of metro power lines running in close proximity of homes, causes risks such as childhood leukaemia, damage to DNA, leakage of calcium and reduction in sperm count.

A properly grounded metal wire grill around the tracks could help prevent direct exposure to homes in close proximity. However, as with the case of radiation from cell towers, there is a stunning lack of awareness among the general public about the safety guidelines for laying metro power lines within residential localities and market places. One would have to go deep into project details, if made available by the authorities concerned, to know the safety measures followed by the Delhi Metro Rail Corporation Ltd.

Also, Cogent says a far greater number of measurements are needed to conclusively establish constant and high levels of radiation along the elevated metro line.


Generally, radiation is either nuclear or electromagnetic. Nuclear radiation is a form of ionising radiation that harms instantly, like the Cobalt 60 isotope in Mayapuri, Delhi, which killed a ragpicker who touched it without knowing what he was doing. ionising radiation interrupts DNA and causes grievous harm in this way.

EMR from cell phone towers is a form of non-ionising radiation that takes time to show up. it does not interrupt DNA and is similar to the way smoking affects the human body. EMR is like slow poison; it tends to lull people to its effects. So, people may complain of headaches and fatigue, for instance, and attribute them to the hurly-burly of daily life. in time, they may develop a high risk of cancer.

Most of the radiation risk is because the cell phone towers are in residential colonies when they should be away from such places; the antennae on the towers are too low when they ought to be at greater height; they are far too many when there should be fewer; and they are in the wrong places though guidelines specifically state where they should not be.

EMR safety standards in India are based largely on a 1996 document called ‘Health Assessment Statement’ by the Internatio – nal Commission on Non-Ionising Radia – tion Protection (ICNIRP), an international independent non-profit registered in Germany. ICNIRP has science experts who “address the possible adverse effects on human health of exposure to non-ionising radiation”. In their assessment, the ICNIRP said 600 milliwatt/metre square was a safe limit of radiation for the general public. The ICNIRP also issued separate guidelines on maintaining safe limits for cell phone towers, which India’s telecom wing adopted in 2008.

The high risk is because greedy telecom companies do not self-regulate. The official agencies allow wrongdoing

IN INDIA, Cogent classifies emR levels up to 600 mW/msq as safe. Borderline is from 601 to 1000 mW/msq, unsafe is from 1001 to 4000 mW/msq, and extreme anomaly is above 4000 mW/msq.

The TEHELKA survey mapped five schools in delhi. Only one is safe, the delhi Public School in Vasant kunj, South delhi. Two schools are in the unsafe category: Springdales at Pusa Road, and kasturba Balika Vidyalaya, a government school, near New Friends Colony, South delhi. Two are in the extreme anomaly category: Sant Namdev english medium School, a private school near the CGO Complex, South delhi, which enrols students up to Class V; and modern School, Vasant Vihar. This means they recorded radiation levels of over 4000 mW/msq.

The case of the Sant Namdev School is particularly shocking because preadolescent children are far more at risk than adults. The cells in their bodies proliferate at a much faster rate, and they have thinner skulls. Damage here could be serious. And, if the trend in the radiation readings holds, the news could be alarming for most of Delhi’s schools.

Common health The Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium where the Commonwealth Games will be held, has unsafe EMR levels

Hospitals too are barely safe. The survey mapped eight hospital spots. Only one turned up safe: moolchand hospital. Two hospitals, Sir Ganga Ram and AIIMS, are borderline cases. Two are in the unsafe category: Ram Manohar Lohia, and Shanti Avedna Sadan (near Safdarjung). Three hospitals are in the extreme category: Safdarjung, Fortis, and Batra.

This is another shock because those who are unwell are far more vulnerable to the harmful effects of radiation. Patients with pacemakers might even run the risk of death. One of these spots, the Shanti Avedna Sadan near Safdarjung hospital, is actually a “Home for the Continuing Care for Cancer Patients”. And cancer is a possible long-term consequence of radiation.

The TEHELKA survey mapped three Commonwealth Games sites and only one turned up safe: the Games Village residential complex at Akshardham in East Delhi. Radiation levels at three gates in the Village were 340, 341, and 369 mW/msq respectively, within the safe limit of 600mW/msq. But, the Games complex at Jawaharlal Nehru stadium, where the opening and closing ceremonies and the showpiece athletics and weightlifting competitions are to be held, is unsafe. So is the Yamuna Sports Complex where the table tennis and archery competitions are to be held. The worry is that the Games in October, the biggest sports event in India’s history, could be the most radiation-filled sports event ever.

Shockingly, hospitals and schools are in high risk zones. Safdarjung, RML, Modern School and RBI are dangerous

The government is on the slow side, principally because radiation is a blind spot. Few in the administration comprehend emR and its possible fallout. There are many medical consequences people living in delhi should worry about, according to Dr KK Aggarwal, head of Department, Cardiology, Moolchand hospital. Aggarwal is concerned because of the effects of radiation on pacemakers, which many of his patients wear. “The high EMR levels shown up in the TEHELKA survey could be life-threatening for patients with pacemakers. It could also make a person prone to cancer.”

Doctors and scientists describe shortterm health disorders caused by this kind of radiation as “microwave sickness” or “radiofrequency syndrome”. This includes headache, fatigue, irritability, sleeping disorders, difficulties in concentration, difficulty in remembering things, depression, and loss of appetite. Diseases contracted in the long term could include leukaemia and brain tumour.

This situation has been caused because the official guidelines for setting up cell phone towers are not followed. In January 2008, Delhi Lieutenant Governor Tejendra Khanna approved a set of stronger guidelines for the installation of cell phone towers. These included:

 No base station antennae within schools and hospitals because children and patients are more susceptible to electromagnetic fields

 No antennae in narrow lanes to reduce the risks caused by earthquake or wind-related disaster

 Antennae should be at least three metres away from a nearby building and must not directly face the building

 The lower end of the antenna should be at least three metres above the ground or a roof

 Sharing common tower infrastructure should be explored in case of multiple transmitter sites

 Access to base station antenna sites must be prohibited for the general public by wire fencing, locking the door to the roof, etc.

● Access to a tower site should be for a minimum period, as far as possible, even for maintenance personnel

Warning signs must be at antenna sites saying: “Danger! RF radiations, Do not enter!” and “Restricted Area”

In April 2008, senior officials of the Municipal Corporation of Delhi (MCD) informed Residents Welfare Associations (RWAS) in Delhi that cell phone towers would henceforth be installed only after consulting RWAs, and would not be left to telecom companies and individual houseowners. On paper, this was good. On the ground, things are a little different.

For instance, a residential building opposite Modern School in Vasant Vihar, a tony South Delhi locality, has a cell tower on it. New Friends Colony, another upmarket residential bloc in Delhi, is ringed by seven cell towers. The antenna on the tower near the colony’s Kasturba Balika Vidyalaya, a government school where mostly the poorer families send their children, is barely a metre and a half from the base of the tower. It should be at least three metres above. The VIP wing in the Ram Manohar Lohia hospital has a cell tower visible right behind the wing.

Delhi Blue apartments, a relatively well-maintained residential building a block away from Safdarjung hospital, has three cell towers on it. Delhi Blue is adjacent to the Shanti Avedna Sadan, a home for cancer patients. Then, there are several antennae on top of the Fortis hospital building. There are three towers a block from the Batra hospital. And so it goes, violation after violation. The problem partly is because radiation from cell phone towers is monitored according to guidelines, not laws. A guideline has no penalty if violated.

INA market is close to AIIMS and is a favourite haunt of embassy staff. It has hundreds of footfalls a day as people pick their fruit, vegetables and meats. Sanjeev Kumar, 24, works in a dhaaba in the market and sleeps in a rooftop shanty. Kumar is from Bihar, one of Delhi’s multitude of dailywagers. Kumar’s brother owns the dhaaba where Kumar works, and so it works out cheap to sleep on a rooftop shanty right there.

Trouble is, there are four cell phone towers where Kumar sleeps, and there are more shanties between the towers. There are no signs warning of danger from radiation. There is nothing to warn Kumar and the others to stay away. Instead, there is an advertisement hoarding of Airtel’s mobile services. “Keep in touch”, says the hoarding.

Those who should know better, like professionals and administrators, appear to be as ignorant as the dhaaba worker. The guidelines say no cell phone tower must face another building so that emr may not enter a building directly. But, a tower on top of the Indian Medical Association building faces the Delhi Development Authority’s Vikas Minar office. And a tower in the High Court complex, atop the Lawyers Chambers, faces another building directly.

Some official movement has begun to get a handle on this problem. on April 8, the Department of Telecommunications issued an order, No. 800-15/2010, to telecom operators asking them to submit radiation audits for their towers by may 8. But, this hasn’t been done. Last heard, the telecom companies have asked for more time. Curiously, Vodafone, a leading telecom company, has put out radiation audits of its towers in england but has no such readings for India.

Ved Prakash sandlas, a former Chief Controller at the Defence research Development Organisation (DRDO), a Defence Ministry body, says the authorities may be contributing to the mess by not tracking global norms. “some countries, like russia and Italy, are tightening their emr norms further. India must track them and tighten her own policies to decrease radiation,” he says.

According to Sandlas, India could reduce the power of transmitting towers, and hence control the levels of radiation; we could minimise radiation by taking cell towers away from populated areas; the towers could be placed at far greater heights than they are now; or we could use smaller antennae, which look like small dish antennae and don’t emit much radiation in heavily populated areas.

“It will cost additional money to erect taller structures. It will also take money to have smaller antennae because we will need more to transmit the same signals. But, this is how it is done in every foreign city I have travelled to. They have tall towers at great heights, far from human habitation. You can see such towers along the highways. Or, they have small antennae, which are barely visible, in residential areas and marketplaces. Nowhere have I seen towers in the middle of colonies or markets like in India,” Sandlas says.

Sandlas was also a member of a committee that provided inputs to the DoT on safe emr guidelines. It is imperative, he says, to replace current radiation audits done by companies themselves with independent agencies authorised by the government. A couple of choices he suggests are the ministry of Communications Wireless Planning and Coordination Wing, which certifies and issues licences to radio stations, or the society for Applied microwave electronic engineer ing and Research (SAMEER), a centre for electromagnetics that works out of Mumbai, Chennai and Bengaluru.

There may be something in what Sandlas says. England, which follows the ICNIRP guidelines as India does, has a government body, the Office of Communications, to conduct radiation audits. The US, UK, and Canada have regulations stating that cell phone towers must be 150 feet above “the level of human habitation”. In addition, Canada does not allow cell towers in residential areas. China allows towers in residential areas like India, but has strict guidelines to keep EMR levels below 600 mw/msq, the internationally accepted safe limit.

It’s not that all areas in Delhi are hazardous. The Hazrat Nizamuddin railway station, Delhi’s third biggest railway station, is showing virtually no radiation. Sonia Gandhi’s residence is within safe radiation limits, as is Sheila Dikshit’s official residence. LK Advani’s residence at 30 Prithviraj Road is safe. India Gate, the Supreme Court, and India International Centre, Delhi’s oldest club for intellectuals, are safe. IIT Gate, one of south Delhi’s hubs, is safe. so, it is possible.



Hazards from EMR range from short to long term. A headache today could mean a tumour tomorrow

IMMEDIATELY Could hinder
pacemakers and ICDs, which could be fatal for patients

3 YEARS Appetite loss, sleep disorders, headaches, short term memory loss

4-5 YEARS Tinnitus, muscle spasms, visual disorder, skin ailments

5-10 YEARS Drop in sperm count, cardio and respiratory problems

8-10 YEARS Acoustic neuroma, brain tumour, leukaemia


Some of the risk is also being created by the galloping use of cell phones. In October 2008, Delhi was the first metropolis in India to cross 100 percent teledensity, meaning almost everyone had a cell phone and some had more than one. By November 2009, Mumbai, Kolkata, and Chennai had also gone beyond 100 percent teledensity. The November 2009 figures were: Chennai 143 percent, Delhi 138, Mumbai 112, and Kolkata 102.

With demand continuing to rise, telecom companies look for ways to maximise profits. One way of doing this is to mushroom cell towers, by making deals with, say, individual houseowners for a small price. For instance, the number of cell towers in Delhi has jumped from 1800 in February 2006 to over 6000 now, dealing with over 25 million cell phone users. This has consequences. readings in the TEHELKA survey at seven points were compared with readings from four years ago taken by the same company, Cogent. The findings are astounding. At some places, radiation levels have gone up more than 1000 times.

In January 2006, New Friends Colony barely registered radiation at 4.4. mW/msq. Now, the spot is registering 3500 mW/msq, almost six times the safe limit, making it an unsafe zone. There was a minimal 1.7 mW/msq outside the New Delhi Railway Station four years ago. Now, it is registering more than 4000 mW/msq, almost seven times the safe limit and has become an extreme radiation zone. Radiation levels outside Bangla Sahib Gurudwara have gone from 2.2 to 1200 mW/msq; this is now an unsafe zone.

A spot outside the Hyatt Regency, a five-star hotel in the centre of Delhi, has gone from 4.6 to 4000 mW/msq; this is now an extreme radiation zone. Just outside Batra Hospital is now more than 4000 mW/msq, up from 0.93, making it another extreme zone. M-block market, Greater Kailash II, where TEHELKA is headquartered, has gone from 2.2 to more than 4000 mW/msq; this is an extreme risk zone. And, Nehru Place, near Modi Tower, a commercial hub in South Delhi, has gone from 5.5 to over 4000 mW/msq, another extreme radiation zone.

Neighbour’s rage A man calls from a building opposite a cell tower he has complained about

Such are the levels of radiation in these areas that the instrument recording them, the High Frequency Analyser, kind of dances to a stop. Even in areas within the safe limits, the Analyser emits a buzzing sound when it records the readings. in high level zones, the buzz gets much louder. The digital display on the instrument, which gives the reading, vanishes. There is just the number ‘1’ and a dash. This shows the metre cannot display the reading because it is beyond the maximum it can record. if it were actually a reading of 1, it would have shown 001.

Congress Lok Sabha member Milind Deora is an active campaigner against EMR. He says enforcement is an important factor in curbing EMR. “if the government can make restaurants free of smoking and keep drivers from using cell phones while driving, i am sure they can enforce the guidelines on cell phone towers as well,” he says.

“Cell phone towers in residential areas must be prevented. Cell phone companies must be barred from airing advertisements showing a pregnant woman holding a cell phone to her belly. instead, these companies must clearly and visibly advertise the harmful effects of EMR from cell phones and cell towers. The argument that cell phones are needed for development is no argument. Who wants development when they have brain tumour?” Deora says.

The danger is escalating also because india depends on telecom companies to self-regulate. This is low motivation for those frenzied about profit. For instance, even in desperately poor areas of Bihar, the billboards are entirely those of telecom companies seducing people to talk more on the cell phone. So, public safety is apparently not a priority area yet for telecom companies.

How safe are you? 
Exclusive tehelka 100 spot radiation survey

SO MUCH SO that the industry doesn’t even like talk of EMR. Airtel, Vodafone and Reliance did not respond to queries. And, NK Goyal, Chairman Emeritus of the Telecom Equipment Manufacturers Association and founder of the Communication Manufacturer’s Association of india, was sceptical. “What is the proof that the electromagnetic radiation you have detected (in the TEHELKA survey) has come from the cell phone towers?” he asked. “Such radiation can be emitted from a microwave oven too.” He had nothing more to say. it is true that EMR can come from household appliances, FM radio equipment and television transmitters. But, they were not seen in the areas where the TEHELKA readings were taken. There were only cell phone towers.


Inhospitable Antennae flout health guidelines on the roof of Fortis hospital, Vasant Kunj

Because of the proliferation of towers, marketplaces in Delhi are mostly risky zones. Of the 15 markets surveyed, only one is within safe limits: Yamuna Bazar near the ISBT. Three are borderline areas: DlF Mall Vasant Kunj, and South exten sion i and ii. Four are unsafe zones: PVR Saket complex; Select Citywalk Mall, Saket; INA Market; Okhla vegetable market. Seven are extreme radiation zones: Khan Market, Connaught Place, Hauz Khas market, Yusuf Sarai market, M-block market, Greater Kailash II, PVR Priya complex, Vasant Vihar, and Jangpura market.

Of late, the MCD has begun to seal unauthorised cell phone towers. The MCD found 2,952 of the 5,364 towers under its jurisdiction unauthorised. But, they are largely unauthorised on commercial grounds, not for the health risk they pose. The MCD levies Rs 5 lakh and an operator may install a tower if he pays up. However, minimal stipulations on radiation are beginning to be enforced.

As for Dastur, you can’t talk to him on his cell phone anymore. He receives text messages and calls back from his landline. The ‘half paisa a second’ calls are not for him. One of Delhi’s first users of the cell phone is also one of the first to stop doing so.



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