Over 900 million mobile subscribers will soon be direct beneficiaries of stringent new government norms to control harmful radiation from mobile handsets, a tacit admission that the present radiation levels are injurious to health.
The government wants to enforce education of consumers about the benefits of the hands-free option and choosing SMS over voice calls or keeping mobile calls as brief as possible, with special health warnings for children, adolescents, pregnant women, and those with any kind of medical implants.
A very large majority of subscribers have no information or recourse relating to health hazards from possible harmful Electro-Magnetic Frequency (EMF) radiation emitting from mobile handsets. Radio frequency (RF) is the primary medium of mobile communication.
The rate at which RF energy is absorbed by the body is called Specific Absorption Rate (SAR). Various global studies establish that exposure to RF energy beyond a threshold SAR value can cause significant health issues.
India has so far been following a SAR limit of 2 watts/kg in accordance with ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection Association) norms. An inter-ministerial committee has now curtailed the SAR level for mobile handsets further to 1.6 watts/kg average over a six minute period and taken over a volume containing a mass of 1 gram of human tissue. The SAR level shall now be displayed on handsets.
The guidelines prescribed by the committee will lead to guidelines and legally binding provisions under the Indian Telegraph Act. This includes a mandatory provision that all cellphones sold in India in future will comply with relevant BIS standards and be sold with hands-free devices.
The SAR value information of the mobile handset should be available on the manufacturer’s website and in the handset manual. The information on SAR values shall also be made available to mobile subscribers at the handset point of sale.
Further, all mobile handsets manufactured and sold in India or imported from international destinations shall be checked for compliance of the SAR limit. Those manufacturing handsets in India will be required to self-declare SAR value of each handset.
In respect of imported handsets, manufacturers, apart from self-declaration of SAR, shall specify the SAR information in their documentation, which will be verified by the appropriate authority.
Secretary of the department of telecom, R Chandrashekhar, had earlier indicated that handsets will be covered by BIS standards and the DoT needs to approach them; however there are no provisions for such compliance under the Indian Telegraph Act.
It has therefore been decided that suitable amendments in the Indian Telegraph Rules under the Indian Telegraph Act 1885, shall be enacted so that government can enforce mandatory certification of SAR limit on mobile handsets.
The government also wants the instructions in the consumer handset booklet or user manual to contain five new safety precautions. These include: “Use a wireless, hands-free system with a low power Bluetooth emitter; ensure that cellphone has a low SAR; keep voice calls short or send text messages instead – an advice that applies especially to children, adolescents and pregnant women; use cellphone when signal quality is good; and finally people with active medical implants should preferably keep mobile handsets at least 15cms away from the implant”.
A final list of SAR values of different mobile phones will be uploaded on the DoT and TEC websites. So far, India along with Europe, Japan, Taiwan and Australia have followed ICNIRP standards, while markets such as the United States, Canada and South Africa follow IEEE standards.