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HYDERABAD, Feb 7: People living near cellphone companies’ base trans-receiver station (BTS) towers raise doubts on the process for approval of the structures’ installation and call for a complete overhaul of the rules seen as too lenient towards the cellphone companies.

There is an increasing fear that the towers emit dangerous electromagnetic waves, and people urge the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) should verify if they are safe.

The committees that grant approval are headed by taluka municipal officers with taluka officers of infrastructure or services, an official from building control department and a nominee of the district nazim as members.

Under the Sindh government policy guidelines for installation of towers notified on Jan 12, 2007, cellular phone companies have to abide by 32 different sets of conditions before and after installation of towers or antennas.

They include an affidavit from concerned owner of property, ownership proof, NoC from EPA for that particular location only, and assurance that the areas approved for installation of towers shall be maintained by concerned company to create an environment friendly atmosphere.

The towers could be seen installed mostly on rooftops of plazas whose residents claimed the builders had rented out rooftops to the celllphone companies despite their reservations. “They didn’t’ seek our approval or consult us,” said a resident of Cantonment area.

In no case, the companies have been able to create an

‘environment-friendly atmosphere’ near their installation neither have authorities or the committees been able to make them abide by the agreed set of rules.

No explanation can be put forward for the condition, “affidavit from concerned owner of property” if it comes to renting out a rooftop for towers.

In most cases, plazas residents are not willing to allow towers’ installation but builder gets it done on the ground that he is the actual owner of the property.

In the city taluka alone, around 150 towers have been installed and according to TMO city Fakhir Shakir only 50 have been installed after going through set procedure.

He agreed that companies had not created environment friendly atmosphere and added that under amended policy guidelines issued on July 29, 2008 no tower could be sealed or demolished.

Clause-C of the amended guidelines say “between processes of NoC no other action can be applied on companies like demolition and sealing.”

The guidelines perusal lays it bare that the government policymakers are more lenient towards cellular phone companies.

“Since all mobile companies are rendering public service to every citizen and willing to contribute challan fee prescribed by local government, para-4 of letter be read ‘all cases (NoC files) will be submitted to TMA duly completed as one window operation; all formalities should be completed by TMA within 15 days of submission failing which cases will be deemed to have been approved and TMA will be bound to issue challans against submitted files assuming no issue observation”, according to the amended guidelines.

People suggested that the approval process needed to be overhauled by making mandatory, intervention of district or provincial government and permission from those living near the proposed site for tower’s installation.

“We have received around a dozen complaints from different areas where people have objections to installation of towers,” said TMO city. But, legally speaking, he could not go for towers’ demolition as the law prohibited it, he added.

It needs to be seen after a proper study whether towers emit electromagnetic waves and whether they are that much dangerous for humans. Hyder Abbas Rizvi, an MQM MNA in the outgoing government, had first raised the issue and called for proper policy guidelines.

Recently, the Senate’s standing committee on environment headed by Dr. Mohammad Ali Brohi, also discussed the issue in Karachi with secretary EPA Mir Hussain Ali and others. “We will meet again soon as the committee has called for a study report from EPA to take decision,” Brohi said over phone.

The secretary proposed that permission for towers’ installation should be made conditional with EPA’s approval because the TMAs lacked expertise in this regard, he said.

The committee consented to the proposal but it needed a notification to enforce it, he said. “A federal EPA official tried to clarify in his presentation that waves from the towers are not harmful but I personally feel that a study should be conducted to see whether the towers emit harmful waves or not,” he added.

In most cases, towers have been installed before issuance of Jan 12 policy guidelines and TMO-led committees have no time to look into specifics of the towers installed before they came into being.

An official of the building control department said that he had so far attended two meetings, which discussed two tower installation cases, and he had recorded his objections over stability certificate of the structure.