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Experts from the industry remain divided on the issue of health hazards caused due to radiation from mobile towers
With the increase in mobile phone usage throughout the world, the effect of radiation from mobile phones and towers on human health is the subject of recent interest and study. While industry players continue to assure us that these towers do not pose any risk to human lives, academicians and scientists have a different opinion on the subject.
“Neither I am against mobile phone towers nor am I against the service providers. I am also not saying the norms (for mobile tower radiation) have been flouted. All I am asking is to reduce the electromagnetic radiation (EMR) level of these towers. I have problem with the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) for adopting the worst radiation norms in India,” said Prof Girish Kumar. He was speaking at a meeting organised by Bombay Telephone Users’ Association (BTUA) on mobile tower radiation and green telecom, in Mumbai.
While Prof Kumar cited studies explaining various health hazards due to mobile tower radiation on human and wildlife, another panellist Rajan Mathews, director-general Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI), also citing numerous research and studies, counter argued saying that the radiation norms are within safety limit. “There is no conclusive evidence to show that mobile tower radiation is carcinogenic. The International Commission on Non-Ionising Radiation Protection (INCRP) guidelines are within safety limit and there is no ill-effect on biological health,” Mr Matthews said.
In India, the radiation norms have been adopted according to the INCRP for base station emission with 9.2 watt per square meter (W/sqm). Across the globe, several countries have adopted their own standards as nobody really knows what level of mobile tower radiation is safe and what is dangerous. Countries like Austria have a strictest norm of 0.001W/sqm and China has 0.4W/sqm.
However experts say that these guidelines are questionable. Prof Kumar said, “The guidelines clearly say that it is to protect against the short-term gross heating with average of over six minute per day. But here in India, it is adopted for 24 hours. We are just making mockery of the INCRP guidelines. A simple calculation shows that the practice followed in India under the INCRP guidelines is more or equal to putting someone in a microwave for 19 minutes.”
Explaining the biological hazards of these radiations, Prof Kumar said that there have been cases of people from one particular apartment, continuously exposed to radiation due to tower installed opposite to them, developing cancer. “This is not a coincidence. In fact the cancer is in the last stage. There are short-term hazards like memory loss, irritation, drying of fluids around the eyes, brain joints, heart and abdomen, cardiovascular diseases, sleep disruption, if exposed to these radiations for long-term.”
According to Prof Kumar, there are studies providing the ill-effects of EMR on wildlife and bees. He also cited an example of a tree near Delhi-Gurgaon toll naka, which saw steady decline in lime production due to its constant exposure to the cell phone tower. However, Mr Matthews, citing various reports such as Interphone study conducted in May 2010, refuted studies stating that these are health hazards.
“Many years back I was personally invited to set up wireless communication in one of the hospitals of California. For the record, California has strictest rules and it is impossible for them to allow it if there is any health hazards. Since then, the usage in that hospital has increased and not otherwise,” he said.
According to Prof Kumar, many studies on the ill effects of mobile tower radiation concludes that further research is required, but there is enough evidence to prove. “Interphone study concluded that there is no overall increase in risk but it suggested increase in glioma for heavy users. Blackberry gives a warning message that says use the mobile phone keeping 25mm away from the body, don’t keep it next to the abdomen of pregnant women, and reduce the amount spent on calls. Why could a mobile phone company ask to reduce the time on calls? Because they know that there is a problem.”
Following the public outcry against the ill-effects of radiation emission, the Indian government had set up an inter-ministerial group in August 2010 to evaluate the evidence, revisit radiation guidelines for mobile towers and adopt guidelines for radiation emission by cell phones.
The committee submitted its recommendations in January last year. It suggested that EMR from the cell phones should be brought down by one-tenth of the existing levels and also said that there should be provisions for continuous online monitoring and display of radiation levels.
“In fact the inter-ministerial committee reviewed 919 studies of which 539 said that there is an impact of the EMR,” Prof Kumar said.
“On immediate basis the emission should be reduced to 0.01W/sqm. This might result in high call drop out rates. Then in one to two years’ time, it should be further brought down to 0.001W/sqm. This will require investment and as per my analysis on the return on investment for the operators, they can increase the cost per minute by 0.10 per minute. The government should also be proactive in giving subsidies and reducing the license fees for the service providers,” the professor added.
According to a Brussels-based not-for-profit consumer organisation, Herbalife’s sales method is in contradiction with certain articles of the Market Practices Act; whereas the company argued that it uses a legal “multi-level” sales system
Herbalife, a global direct selling firm, has been declared as an illegal scheme by Commercial Court in Brussels, Belgium. According to experts, the decision comes largely on the assessment that the company could not show its retail customer base. However, the company has decided to challenge the ruling.
Herbalife, a US-based company is a global nutrition company selling weight-management, nutrition, and personal care products in 79 countries, including India, through a network of approximately 2.5 million independent distributors.
According to complainant, Test-Aankoop, a Brussels-based not-for-profit consumer organisation, Herbalife’s sales method is in contradiction with certain articles of the Market Practices Act. Whereas the company argued that it uses a legal “multi-level” sales system.
The court decided that, “Herbalife is in breach of Articles 91, 4 and 99 of the Act regarding market practises and consumer protection because it has established, managed or promoted a pyramid scheme, whereby the consumer or a business stands to make money which is more likely the result of introducing new consumers or businesses into the scheme than from the sale or use of products. The court orders cessation of this breach and thus of the Herbalife pyramid scheme whereby a consumer or an business stands to make money which is more likely the result of introducing new consumers or businesses into the scheme than from the sale or use of products.”
The court also ordered, Herbalife to pay a fine of 5,000 euro for each breach that is established from two months after the date of this ruling.
According to Robert FitzPatrick, the co-author of the book, False Profits, the first book-length analysis of pyramid schemes and multi-level marketing, and also the founder and president of Pyramid Scheme Alert, “The court largely based its conclusion on the assessment that Herbalife could not show it had a retail customer base. The court rejected Herbalife's claim that its salespeople (distributors) serve as ‘end-users’. The Belgian court’s conclusion was that Herbalife is not a direct selling company, as it claims to be, but a pyramid recruiting scheme that offers much more reward for recruiting than for retailing. The court also cited the huge dropout and loss rates among Herbalife distributors.”
Mr FitzPatrick writes on his blog, that, “The ruling addresses the most obvious and fundamental of all the deceptions regarding ‘business opportunity’ frauds. This deception is the scheme’s disguise of ‘direct selling.’ Most of the evaluations and defences of such schemes concern ‘front-loading’ and ‘product return’ policies, the size of the sign-up fees, and the commissions to recruiters based on ‘product sales’ (to sales people) rather than from entry fees.”
He adds, “In fact, those are only incidental factors, and they distract from the most basic of all questions that determine legality and legitimacy: Where are the scheme’s retail customers? Where does the money for rewards to recruiters (ultimately) come from? Retail sales or from the investments of the salespeople?”
According to Mr FitzPatrick, the decision is a global predator. “In 2005, Herbalife disclosed in its annual 10K report to the SEC that the dropout rate of its distributors was 90% for the ‘non-leaders’ and 60% for the leaders. It reported that about 25% of all sales people were ‘leaders.’ So, overall, approximately 80% of Herbalife’s distributors quit the scheme every year. Translation: Herbalife signs up hundreds of thousands of new people every year! The Belgian court says all recruited people will be deceived and virtually all will lose money. If that is the case, Herbalife would be a global predator.”
Meanwhile, the company has decided to appeal against the verdict. It said in statement that, “Herbalife believes the judgment contains factual errors and is based on misinterpretations of the law and its direct-selling sales model. Herbalife remains committed to its multi-level direct-selling sales model and is confident that, with clarifications in certain aspects of its business, there will be no doubt as to its compliance with all applicable Belgian laws.”
Majority of complaints received at the National Consumer Helpline were from telecom subscribers, followed by LPG, banking, PDS and insurance customers
The telecom sector in India tops in the number of consumer complaint received by the National Consumer Helpline (NCH) in December 2011. According to experts, unless regulators act upon fast, the situation of harassed mobile phone users’ will continue to remain the same or may even deteriorate.
Achintya Mukherjee, secretary, Bombay Telecom Users’ Association, said, “In my view the situation will continue to remain same unless the regulators’ tighten the process of dealing the complaints and increase the intensiveness of it.”
“Timely auditing of the companies (service providers) is required in monitoring whether and how various complaints relating to billing, value-added services, mobile number portability (MNP), have been dealt with,” he added.
According to NCH, which works under the ministry of consumer affairs, out of the total 13,295 complaints received during December, about 14.6% belonged to the telecom sector. This was followed by LPG, banking, public distribution service (PDS) and insurance.
Many telecom subscribers complained that at times, value-added services were automatically activated on their mobiles. Then there are complaints relating to wrong billing and denial of MNP on frivolous grounds. For instance, many a time users’ are denied to port out by the service providers citing contractual obligation.
Anil Prakash, president, Telecom Users Group, India feels that there is a need to upgrade the services of the outsourced call centers by the service providers. He told Moneylife, “Service providers are increasing their customer base. But how about improving their networks? There are so many complaints of call drops. About 96% of the subscribers are use pre-paid plans and they call the company’s call centers for complaints. However these call centers are outsourced and are ill-equipped to help the users. There is a need to upgrade these facilities.”
However AR Shenoy, Mumbai-based consumer activist says, “Though telecom has the highest number of complaints, one need to know which area within the sector has maximum grievances and also whether it is MNP or pesky calls or broadband services.”
According NCH, maximum consumer complaints calls were received from Delhi followed by Uttar Pradesh, Maharashtra, Haryana, Rajasthan, Bihar, Gujarat, Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka.