Several states including Rajasthan, Maharashtra, Delhi and Himachal Pradesh are struggling to tackle bird flu cases after a recent outbreak. Many on social media, however, believe that the birds are not dying due to the viral infection but Reliance Jio’s 5G trials.

Congress leader Chunni Lal Sahu, Gaon Dastak journalist Mahendra Kudiya and Samajwadi Party leader Rachna Singh were among the prominent individuals who amplified the claim.

Alt News has also received multiple fact-check requests on its WhatsApp helpline number (+917600011160).


This fact-check has been divided into sections that discuss: 1) Has 5G spectrum been allocated in India? and 2) Can birds die due to radiation from cellular towers?

1. 5G spectrum is yet to be allocated in India

5G is yet to be rolled out in India. According to a Bloomberg report, “The high-speed technology was first commercially launched in South Korea in April 2019. Since then, it has been rolled out in more than 26 countries and added close to 190 million subscribers, a bulk of them coming from China, which launched 5G in October 2019.”

Business Standard reported that the 5G spectrum has been kept out of the telecom spectrum auction in India slated to be held in March 2021.

The 4G bands that have been put on offer are – 700 MHz, 800 MHz, 900 MHz, 1,800 MHz, 2,100 MHz, 2,300 MHz and 2,500 MHz. “The 3,300 MHz to 3,600 MHz bands – or the 5G spectrum bands – didn’t make the cut. The base price for the 5G spectrum is around Rs 3.63 trillion,” the report adds.

A report in The Economics Times explains the reason behind 5G services in India hanging by a thread – “One, the pricing of spectrum for auction has been an issue of contention by telcos; second, the amount of spectrum that would be offered for bidding; and thirdly, whether or not to conduct 5G auctions this fiscal year.”

5G trials in India may commence in the first half of 2021. IT and telecom minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said last month that the trials are expected to start soon but the minister did not give a date. Reliance chairman Mukesh Ambani had said that “Jio will pioneer the 5G revolution in India in the second half of 2021”.

2. Radiation from 5G cellular towers cannot kill birds

Mobile phones operate in the high frequency (HF) range of the electromagnetic spectrum – from 100 kHz (0.1 MHz) to 300 GHz (3 lakh MHz), per the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP). India follows ICNIRP guidelines and has one of the most stringent standards on EMF radiations. Airtel and Vodafone currently offer 4G in the 1800MHz and 2100MHz bands, while Jio uses a lower band of 800 MHz. The 2021 auction includes band range till 2,500MHz.

The Department of Telecommunications (DoT) is in talks to open up new spectrum bands for 5G in the 3300-3600 MHz frequency range. All the above-mentioned frequency ranges are well within the permissible limit.

An article in the BBC says, “The radio waves involved in 5G and other mobile phone technology sit on the low-frequency end of the electromagnetic spectrum. Less powerful than visible light, they are not strong enough to damage cells – unlike radiation at the higher frequency end of the spectrum which includes the sun’s rays and medical x-rays.”

American fact-checking website Snopes spoke to Dr Eric van Rongen, a member of the Health Council of The Netherlands and the Chairman of ICNIRP, after the rumour was viral in the country. Several hundred birds and sparrows died in The Hague between October 8 and November 3, 2018, which gave birth to the rumour. “The only way one could imagine the death of birds as a result of exposure to electromagnetic fields is with very high-level exposure that results in considerable heating…But the levels that are used by mobile telecom antennas are not strong enough for this to happen. There are maybe millions of such antennas around the world and this has never been reported. Even if there would have been 5G exposure, it is very unlikely that that could cause the [bird] mortality,” Dr Rongen informed.

The conspiracy theory that radiation from cellular towers cause birds to die was also circulating after 2G spectrum allocation.

Birds, however, are known to die of collision with communication towers. Migratory birds sometimes run into tall towers that go up to the altitudes they travel. The steady red light on top of towers also confuses birds during navigation.

The claim that birds in India are dying due to 5G trials and not bird flu is not backed by evidence. The hoax was also viral after the release of the Tamil science fiction movie ‘2.0’ in 2018 that showed the effects of electromagnetic field radiation on birds.

About the Author

Pooja Chaudhuri is a senior editor at Alt News.