TRAI’s green telecom efforts not sufficient, say experts
Moneylife Digital Team 23 March 2011

The telecom industry is receiving incentives and subsidies as part of the efforts to reduce the carbon footprint, but it is not doing enough in the major areas

The Telecom Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI) last month published a consultation paper on "Green Telecommunications" addressing various aspects like carbon footprints for the telecommunications industry. But, industry experts are questioning the incentives and subsidies provided to the sector to push the green agenda.

Professor Girish Kumar, of IIT Bombay, who has been undertaking research on the harmful effects of electro-magnetic radiation (EMR), asks: "Why does industry want incentives for green telecom? Is it not our duty as Indians to not pollute our own country? Should we not care for our people and environment?"

The paper says there are 3.1 lakh towers and about 60% of the power requirement is met through diesel generators and the rest is fulfilled by power from the grid. But Mr Kumar insists that there are more than 4.5 lakh towers in the country as of 2011 and that due to shortage of power nearly 59% of the requirement is met through diesel generators and this causes pollution.

He also pointed out that telecom operators enjoy unnecessary subsidy on diesel. He explained that telecom operators get Rs7 per litre subsidy on diesel. Since their consumption of diesel is 2 billion litres every year, they get a subsidy of Rs1,400 crore per year.

Mr Kumar suggested that the numbers of diesel generators can be reduced if power requirement is curbed by optimising telecom systems. The transmitted power from cell towers must be reduced from 100W to 2W, which will also help to control radiation.

Mr Kumar said, "The government should adopt immediate policy measure to reduce the transmitted power to a maximum 1W to 2W, so the energy requirement will be substantially reduced. Due to low energy requirement, there will be no need for cooling of the high-power amplifier, and thereby air-conditioning would also not be required in most of the cases and then this reduced power requirement can be provided through solar or other renewable energy."

Mr Kumar also raised the issue of the operators' demand for self-regulation of the industry. Telecom operators present for the discussion on the consultation paper had said that the government should try to regulate everything and operators must be allowed to self-certify that they are meeting all norms.

Mr Kumar said operators should not be allowed self-certification and that the government should introduce stringent policies and third-party monitoring of radiation levels and air pollution levels near cell towers. "Heavy penalties should be slapped in case of any violation as it is directly related to the health of people, birds, animals and the environment," he said.

Activist Jehangir Gai, said, "There should be an independent and competent third party regulation." Mr Gai explained, "Assuming that the telecom companies say that there are no health hazards, then of course there are some. Even if there is no conclusive study proving the health hazards due to cell towers, necessary precautions should be taken. It is always better to be on the safer side."

Moneylife has reported on the health hazards arising out of cells towers and the negligence on the part of the government to look into the issue. (Read 'Cell towers violate health and safety norms' , and 'DoT group proposes low radiation levels for cell towers' )

Mr Kumar said it is not enough for service providers to move indoor base transceiver stations (BTS) to outdoor BTS, switch off a few transmitters, and to adopt an automatic frequency plan and air cooling instead of air-conditioner to reduce carbon footprint.

He also recommended that telecom service operators emphasise on research and development to develop solutions, and that the government should come up with rules for 90% of telecom-related products to be manufactured in India, which would also help create millions of jobs in the country. (Also read,'Industry does not want to spend on more cell towers that will lower radiation'. )

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