All's not well...

While Mumbai marked Janmashtami recently, a cluster of organisations mainly from South Mumbai, under the umbrella Indians for Safe Environments (IFSE) supported by the Carmichael Road Citizens' Committee (CCC), Pedder Road Residents’ Association (PRRA) and Altamount Road Area Citizens’ Committee (ARACC) held an awareness meet about the hazards from cell tower radiation. The meet was held at Activity High School on Gamadia Road, on an overcast evening.

Girish Kumar
My point: Professor Girish Kumar has his say

The city was quieter than usual, with the Govindas having spent their energy pyramid climbing and several shops were closed to mark the day. The comparative serenity outside, was offset by some fiery speaking inside the school hall as speakers sought to convince the SoBo audience about the health hazards from electro magnetic field radiations from mobile tower/antennae. A few buildings in the vicinity have sprouted mobile towers off late acting as a catalyst for the concerned to get together in a public meet and and think of how to combat the problem.

A slide illustrating the points raised Pics/Sunil Tiwari   

After a brief introduction, during which the audience was reminded about the swish Usha Kiran building at Carmichael Road which faced a building called Vijay Apts. with mobile towers on the terrace, (see box) they were reminded that it was time to pressure the Govt. about mobile tower radiation, now that tower clusters have mushroomed in the areas around.

listens to introductions
Look, listen and learn: Veena Singhal (extreme r) in the front row listens to introductions

Perin Bagli Activity High School principal took the dais and said that, “we are very concerned about our children, we have approximately 1,000 students studying here and hope they are not affected by the radiation from cell phone towers in the vicinity. We have actually stopped our children from going to a certain area in the school because of these fears. We do need a safer environment, especially for children,” she said to applause.

Juhi Chawla and Prakash Munshi
Sahyadri battle: Prakash Munshi (l) with Juhi Chawla

Next up was Veena Singhal, chairperson of the Pedder Residents’ Association who was introduced with the words “she is one of the people who has been instrumental in saving us from the Pedder Rd flyover, which would have been a monumental disaster.” People listening were urged to emulate Singhal’s “fearlessness” and fight for human rights and against injustice. Singhal claimed many of these cell phone towers are “illegal and unauthorized we had written to authorities earlier for a structural audit of the area. With that, I mean, an audit of all the civic facilities in the area like fire stations etc, but I suppose this letter was binned. I think they have a special waste paper basket, where residents letters are dumped,” said Singhal living up to her, “fearless Veena” label. She also added that it was time authorities awoke from their “collective slumber” about cell phone towers.

Professor Girish Kumar of IIT, Mumbai used slides and graphs to stress his points in his presentation. “I have been working in the field of cell tower radiation hazards for 10 years at least,” said Kumar. He added that because of his anti-cell tower stance, he has been the subject of attacks from all over the country, as the telecom industry is a “trillion dollar industry and I am told that I talk about cell tower because of vested interests. I am also an entrepreneur. Foreign companies do not care for people or the eco system. There is also a new phrase that operators use these days to justify putting up cell phone towers. They say there is no ‘conclusive’ evidence proving they are carcinogenic,” said Kumar evoking snorts from the audience.

Dr A Gokani
Doc talk: Dr A Gokani takes the mike

He then showed slides, which proved that the radiation pattern was important. For instance, if mobile phone towers are atop a terrace, the top few floors are more affected, he said. The professor also stated that he knew people who were afflicted by cancer, women who have had miscarriages but, “the problem is that the people do not want to come out and talk about these things. Our culture is different from that of the West, where the minute a person encounters a problem, he makes sure others know about it. How many cancer cases do they (the operators) want to see before terming it as ‘conclusive’ evidence?” asked Kumar signing off a feisty presentation replete with graphs and montages of earlier news coverage about cell phone towers and health.

Hear, hear: The presentation in progress

Just as Kumar was striding off the stage, Dr Kamlesh Desai took the mike and thundered, “These are a cause of potential genocide. Society must wake up and stand up to the high levels of radiation.”

Juhi Chawla
New role: Juhi Chawla on stage telling participants about the obstacles on the rocky road 

A little sprinkling of glamour arrived in the form of actor Juhi Chawla, looking very girl-next-door in casual trousers and blue t-shirt, sans the greasepaint. Chawla said that Professor Kumar’s presentation was “interesting and alarming” and then spoke about her battle along with other residents, to get mobile phone towers removed from the Sahyadri guesthouse on Malabar Hill. The towers were near her home. “We had to do a lot of research and extensive follow ups, it was a battle of more than a year. I lost heart at times, but residents like Mr. Munshi (pointing to a gentleman in the audience) were so persuasive and just did not give up the fight. We also realised the importance of putting up banners. Then, the media cottoned on to the subject because of their visits to Sahyadri for various press meets and highlighted the issue. That helped a lot too, awareness is really the key,” said Juhi adding that everybody must speak up and get involved as, “one of us is not as strong as all of us.” She then galvanised the people saying that, “we need more presentations and more localities to take this up. Don’t give up; join hands and our numbers will swell. Let us take this movement forward,” she finished.

One almost expected the credits to roll then but since this was not a movie, in came Bombay Hospital’s Dr Anand Gokani who said, “I am often considered a maverick doc who speaks against the profession.” This maverick doc then looked at the sociological genesis of aspirations saying that, “first, something is considered exclusive or unusual, and it becomes a status symbol. When more people acquire it and numbers grow it becomes mass, like tobacco so many years ago was considered a status symbol, then it became mass and one discovered the cancer-tobacco link. Sometimes, this was not highlighted due to certain interests.” Dr Gokani added that children were especially susceptible to radiation because of their softer skulls, and sometimes, dangers like these do not hit the press because of the millions of rupees involved in them. “In Europe, there are stipulations like cell phone towers have to be at least 300-400 m from you and 50m above you, here, towers are much closer. At Haji Ali, whenever I drive past, I see clusters of towers and one has to wonder about the people living there or the police on duty near the juice centre, who spend a sizeable chunk of their day there.” Gokani added that a “lot of education and awareness is needed about these tower hazards. Apathy, ignorance and illiteracy is the cause of non-awareness and the reason why people with ulterior motives can whitewash things and thrust this upon us.”

It was then Malabar Hill resident Prakash Munshi’s turn to speak; the same Munshi who had been part of Juhi Chawla’s fight against the towers near their homes and Munshi gave credit for their success (the towers were removed) to banners that were put up, the media and “investigative journalism.” That came as a bit of fresh air for this reporter, who had been listening to the media being panned till then, for not highlighting hazards because some speakers and a smattering of listeners had come to the conclusion that the media had sold out to the cell phone companies because of huge advertising revenue. In fact, before the seminar began, two women who had come in to listen were talking amongst themselves. One was saying to the other that a journalist told her that they do not write about such things, as it would cost the paper advertising revenue. Then they collectively clucked in disapproval, at this revelation. So, Munshi's doff of the hat, so to speak, was certainly off the beaten, bash-the-media path.

Munshi also said that people sometimes only thought about how much the companies are paying them for putting up the towers but “not what the cost of medical bills would be.” He also rued the perennial Govt. excuse of “setting up committees to look into the matter” and said, “how many committees will they set up?” Citing just how frustrating such fights could be, he said, “During our battle at Malabar Hill, I then decided it was enough of talking to committees and time to talk to the cellular operators themselves.” Munshi then advocated raising a voice against these towers and creating visibility ending with a cheery, “let the voice vote rise and diminish the money vote,” as the meeting closed.

Point of Contact
Contact Indians for Safe Environments c/o Prakash Munshi, Raj Niketan, B G Kher Marg, Mumbai 400006 or email: about health problems faced by citizens on account of mobile towers. 

The data is being compiled to send to the necessary Govt. ministries to appeal to them to create safer guidelines and regulations for mobile tower installation.

In a Sunday MiD DAY report a couple of years earlier, the fracas about Usha Kiran and mobile towers was documented. Excerpts from the report:
Mobile towers or mobile tumours? That is the question. A slew of buildings in the up market Carmichael Road area in South Mumbai, have come together to appeal to Vijay Apartments to remove mobile towers on top of their building, to prevent harmful radiation. Though studies have not yet shown proof of a direct link between mobile tower radiation and cancer, Burjor Cooper, chairman, Carmichael Road Citizen’s Committee, (CRCC) echoes the sentiments of those opposed to the towers in his recent appeal, when he states: “It will take several years for completion of conclusive research and for any restrictions and safety standards to be implemented - with the result that many innocent lives could be lost because of the harmful effects of mobile phone towers.”

The trigger for this united action is three cancer cases in the tony Usha Kiran building opposite Vijay Apartments. Residents who do not wish to be named say there are two women who have cancer tumours on the sixth floor of Usha Kiran. They have been diagnosed with cancer in 2009. Buildings who are supporting Usha Kiran and have joined in the appeal are: Rushila building, Ghia Mansion, Anand-Kamal Co-Op Society, Everest House and Indira Premises Co-Op Society.

Usha Kiran’s appeal also signed by Prakash Patel, treasurer, CRCC, elaborates: “There are three cases of brain tumours (two cases are of a cancerous nature and one case of recurrent/aggressive meningioma) and one case of bone cancer all four cases concentrated in the fifth, sixth, and eighth floors and have occurred in the recent past in Usha Kiran building. These three floors are directly facing and at the same height as the two mobile phone towers placed on the roof of the building (Vijay Apartments) on the opposite side of the road.”

From Top of the Hill
In the September 2009 issue of the Altamount Road Area Citizen’s Committee (ARACC) newsletter titled: Top of the Hill, a news snippet on the back page is headlined: Beware. It does not name the buildings but it is obvious that the buildings in question are Usha Kiran and Vijay Apartments. An excerpt from the news item reads: ‘A skyscraper on Carmichael Road has had three cases of brain tumour in a span of seven months. On further inspection it was found that the cases occurred on floors that were in the same bandwidth as cell phone towers in the opposite building. These towers face the skyscraper.

Permissible radiation levels are from 0-50 but when a flat on the affected floor was tested it showed radiation levels of a staggering 2,000! Is there a correlation between these cases and the cell phone towers? While scientific evidence linking the two irrefutably is yet to be found, the writing is on the wall. Buildings would do well to avoid getting lured by rich sums paid by cell phone companies to host these towers.’  

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