BMC's tower of shame

Even as Navi Mumbai's municipal body conducts a drive against illegal cell phone towers, Mumbai continues to reel under the radiation risk

Concerned about the proliferating number of illegal mobile phone towers in the city and the radiation risk posed by them, the state government might have come out with a strict set of rules to get them removed in July, this year, but as it turns out, the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has done absolutely nothing, even while its counterpart in the satellite city of Navi Mumbai is setting a fine example.

After the Urban Development Department (UDD) of the state government passed new guidelines concerning cellphone towers, the Navi Mumbai Municipal Corporation (NMMC) has, over the last few months, conducted a thorough survey in the satellite city and found as many as 212 illegal towers. Already, eight towers have been made inoperative.

While the BMC hasn't conducted any such drive, according to sources, when an illegal cellphone tower is discovered, the BMC levies a penalty to regularise it. This, when new guidelines clearly mention that any cell phone tower found illegal has to be removed.

A BMC Corporator who requested anonymity said, "There are around 1,628 illegal mobile phone towers in Mumbai. The BMC has not taken action against any of these towers as required by the UDD policy." In all, Mumbai is reported to have around 3,489 mobile towers in Mumbai.

When contacted, the Deputy Municipal Commissioner of the BMC, Sudhir Naik, said, "We follow the directives sent by the state government. We have not conducted any drive to remove them (illegal cell phone towers), but act upon them if our officials receive complaints. If they are found to be unauthorised, we penalise as well as remove these towers."

However, according to a BMC official, who requested anonymity, when it finds an illegal tower, the BMC levies a penalty cum regularisation fee of Rs 5,000. This sum ensures that the tower has been legalised.

In comparison, NMMC has completed a survey to find the number of illegal towers in the city and has also started removing those found illegal. According to the survey, the satellite city has 764 mobile towers in all, out of which 212 were found to have flouted rules. Sanjay Banait, Assistant Director of the Town Planning Department of NMMC, said, "After getting complaints about illegal mobile towers, we conducted a survey to find more such illegal towers." Among the 212 illegal towers, the operators of 74 towers had neither submitted any documents nor registered them with the corporation. The remaining 138 mobile towers were towers whose proposals had been rejected.

When contacted, Aziz Shaikh, Deputy Commissioner of the NMMC, said "We have stopped our drive against illegal towers for the time being as some mobile service providers have approached the court, following which the court has asked the NMMC to hear the providers' pleas."

According to Shaikh, once the hearing gets over, they will start a full-fledged drive against the remaining towers.

With Inputs by Rinkita Gurav

'NMMC can't do this to us'
Finding issue with the NMMC's drive against illegal towers, the official spokesperson for a leading mobile service provider said, "We follow guidelines issued by the Department of Telecom. However, if 212 of 764 towers have been removed by NMMC in a short period of time, it will have an impact on mobile service as load on other mobile towers will increase, which may result in disconnection of calls during peak hours."

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