Friday, Oct 31, 2014

Towers of contention

Written by Sharvari Patwa | Posted: November 13, 2013 3:17 am

BMC,the state’s urban development department and the Union ministry for communications have failed to harmonise their respective policies on cellphone towers,only adding to confusion about how safe these towers in the city are. In the last 24 months,there have been at least seven policy drafts by the three agencies,besides numerous representations and suggestions by activists. Still,a uniform policy eludes them,find out MIHIKA BASU and SHARVARI PATWA

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT),the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) and the state’s urban development department (UDD) have each drafted their own guidelines on cellphone towers. There is currently lack of clarity as to which draft will be finally implemented in the city. This,coupled with a Bombay High Court stay order on the demolition of cellphone towers in Mumbai,have resulted in policy paralysis,with no action on 3,661 illegal towers across the city.

MULTIPLE POLICY DRAFTS

While cellphone towers have been a bone of contention for several years,the debate intensified in Mumbai in 2011 and saw actor Juhi Chawla and south Mumbai residents aggressively advocating for safer norms. The civic body issued three drafts in a span of a year – in November 2012,July 2013 and the final revised one in September this year. According to BMC’s last draft,existing mobile tower antennae on schools,colleges and hospitals will have to be removed after the expiry of their approval period. The BMC,which will need the approvals all 227 corporators in its general body meeting,retained the ban on installation of such antennae on the top of and within 100 metres of educational institutions,hospitals,children’s correction homes,senior citizens’ homes and hostels or orphanage buildings for the children. This was in deviation from DoT’s advisory guidelines,which did not specify any exclusion area or zone for installing cellphone towers.

In yet another twist,the state UDD’s notice in October proposed to allow mobile tower antennaes three metres away from the boundary of schools,colleges and hospital premises,in sharp contrast with the September 11 draft policy guidelines of the BMC.

But despite multiple policy drafts by three different agencies and close to 30 broad guidelines,the city is yet to get a final policy.

Meanwhile,in a letter dated October 19,Congress MP Milind Deora,who is also the Union Minister of State for Communications,Information Technology and Shipping,wrote a letter to Chief Minister Prithviraj Chavan,urging the state to either incorporate the DoT’s revised guidelines and final draft of the civic body “in toto” in the gazette notification of the UDD or “allow each local body to formulate its own guidelines after approval from their respective councils”.

The state’s UDD notice ignores another key feature in the BMC draft,which calls for mandatory no-objection certificate (NOC) within three months of the announcement of the revised policy from the top-floor residents or occupants or tenants of the building where a mobile tower antennae is sought to be installed.

Further,the UDD notice adds more guidelines not mentioned in the civic body’s draft,which include NOC from the Maharashtra Pollution Control Board regarding compliance with prescribed norms for noise and smoke levels for the power generating sets to be provided to the continued…

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