Tower-ing inferno

Apr 30, 2013, 07:18 IST | Hemal Ashar

Call to harm goes up as Dadar Matunga residents urged to fight mobile phone tower radiation problems; ire and fire marks three-hour long meet on issue

It was dial R for radiation and rage on Sunday, April 28 morning as residents from the Dadar, Wadala and Matunga areas came together to protest, learn and listen to views of people. These experts and activists were citing possible hazards posed by radiation from the antennae of mushrooming mobile phone towers on buildings at the leafy, green Dadar Parsi Colony and adjoining areas.

Actor Juhi Chawla, now fresh faced poster girl for the anti radiation from mobile tower antennae movement speaks. Pics/Datta Kumbhar

The aim was to educate, inform and frankly as activists stated, awaken citizens and residents into action so that they join the movement against cell phone towers. Currently, medical opinion, seems to be cleaved into two, there are doctors who cite ‘inconclusive medical evidence’ about the effect of cell tower radiation (there are hospitals in the city which have a cell phone tower on their terrace) to others who say that effects may lead to cancer and a host of other illnesses. The meet was held under the aegis of the Forum Against Cell Tower Radiation (F.A.C.T.) Dadar-Matunga.

Activist Prakash Munshi illustrates his point with a slide

Dr Ashish Mehta, spinal and neurological surgeon at Breach Candy and Saifee Hospitals in a detailed presentation to a packed Mancherji Joshi Hall (Dadar Parsi Colony, 5 Gardens) outlined the functions of a cell, aided by a slide presentation. He veered into the scientific while explaining how cells ‘talk’ to one another. “Do you feel you are safe?” he asked the audience before pointing to a slide showing a number of everyday gadgets one used, like the microwave and the electromagnetic field around them.

Dr Ashish Mehta the man of science

These though Dr Mehta said, “are transitory stimulus, for instance one is not standing before a microwave for 24 hours a day, so cells get a chance to repair themselves. It is when electromagnetic radiation is allowed to continuously bombard a cell, then, there is a problem. Cell phones have revolutionised the communication paradigm and though cells do have an automatic repair system it is when there is a disparity between damage and repair, which causes problems.”

Using slides for impact

In a reference to the argument that there is no scientific evidence to prove that radiation from cell phone tower antennae is harmful to health, Dr Mehta cited examples of how a gynaecologist fought for 30 years to convince the medical fraternity that x-ray rays are harmful to the foetus. The same with the tobacco industry, so many years ago, tobacco was not considered harmful.”

Dr Mehta also cleared the air why some people may get affected by radiation from cell phones and cell phone tower antennae, while others do not, “Organ susceptibility varies from individual to individual" and stated that Israel had done maximum work on cell phone tower radiation. You cannot change your genes but you can change your lifestyle,” he said to applause.

What it was all about

The doc then brought a dash of philosophy to that Sunday morning saying that: “‘A diamond is a piece of charcoal that handles stress exceptionally well’ and that is what all those working in this field are.” There was also another one about trust which is, as Dr Mehta’s slide said: ‘Like a smooth piece of paper, crumble it and you will never smooth it all the way out.’ (Gosh: that was profound. Hope I got that spot on).

A gent talks about being threatened while activist Nikhil Desai looks on

Dr Mehta’s presentation was peppered with information about carcinogenic effects and also other effects like hair fall, hearing deficit, vision and memory problems. He also cited what one could do to reduce exposure, including not using cordless phones itself and avoid keeping cell phones too close to the body always, like some people who do keep their cells in their pockets all the time. His pronouncements sent the jean clad in the audience fishing out their cell phones from the pockets in alarm.

‘Let’s not be alarmist, just informative’ was actor Juhi Chawla’s address to the audience. For those who are wondering what-was-she-doing-there, Juhi has become an easy on the eye poster girl for the anti-radiation from cell towers movement, ever since she played a role in bringing awareness and the removal of cell phone towers from the Sahyadri guest house at Malabar Hill in South Mumbai. Incidentally, Juhi stays opposite Sahyadri. So, Juhi, in white shirt and light blue jeans with black high heels, brought some glamour to the morning which was fast moving into noon. “Where do I begin?” she asked the audience. “I am so glad I came here because Ashishbhai’s (referring to Dr Mehta) presentation was so educative.

My family knows Ashishbhai for so many years and my husband trusts his judgement implicitly. So, if he believes the radiation from the antennae of towers is harmful, then, it further cements my belief in the issue. As I was coming in here, I thought to myself how beautifully green this place is, so many of you all who live here, are better off than us, I guess…” she said to some laughs and then spoke for a united effort in combating the cell phone tower malaise stating: “‘God does not expect us to succeed; he only wants us to try’” a Mother Teresa quote.

Juhi also stated that the cell phone industry should give buyers information about do’s and don’ts when people buy a cell phone and stated that little children carrying cell phones are common these days, “they do not need one.” Chawla also said like smoking in the movies, is a subject for intense debate whether one should show actors smoking on film, there may be a case made for correct cell phone usage being shown in the movies.” She ended just before a blitzkrieg called Prakash Munshi took the dais to air his anti-cell phone tower radiation views.

Munshi, member of Indians for Safe Environments (IFSE) started in characteristic thunderous fashion saying, “Health is our fundamental right and cannot be sacrificed for wealth of a few individuals and corporates.” He was greeted with cheers from the audience who had been getting a little twitchy as Sunday lunchtime neared.

Munshi then showed a few clips from Bollywood about cell phones and then, even one slide where the lyrics of: ‘mere saamne waali khidki mein’ were adapted to ‘mere saamne waale khidki se ek mobile tower dikhta hai’ the slide ended with apologies to Padosan (the movie). Well, obviously mobile towers are not just injurious to health but can deflate romance too.

Munshi charged up the audience by saying that the, “Govt. is playing football they are passing the ball amongst themselves, they do not know the rules of football which is to reach the goal not keep passing the ball within each other, there are no damn regulations on certain issues, and we are frustrated with the Govt.” He also stated that certain ‘reports’ are incomprehensible to the common man and then cited two replies he had received via Right to Information (RTI) on related issues.

“One reply stated that: ‘the file is in torn condition and we cannot reply’ while another said that the file: ‘has been temporarily displaced and despite due diligence we cannot search it, when we find it we will reply.’” He was met with laughter from the audience and then, Munshi asked, “How can we use RTI with such bureaucrats?” Ending by saying the onus of proving health hazards from mobile tower radiation must lie with cellular operators, Munshi left the stage with a final flourish, “We are a developed country when we want, an undeveloped country when we want and a superpower when convenient. In fact, we are none of these, we are simply the world's biggest democracy,” he exited with that, setting the tone for a crisp Question & Answer session.

Somebody asked what rules were there for mobile towers near schools, another said that the media (except one paper and a channel) has not helped in the fight, while a third warned the audience that if they try to remove towers they will face threats like they did. At one point the meeting threatened to spiral out of control with people trying to get a word in, but soon order was restored and people were told what they could do in case they want to join the fight against mobile phone towers.

In the end, it was evident that this issue would continue to cleave the city. Activists are stating that by using terms like ‘waiting for conclusive evidence’ we see that while waiting people are being afflicted by disease, prime amongst which is cancer. They state that conclusive evidence, whatever that may be, may be a long time coming but there are enough doubts and questions to warrant removal of mobile towers. ‘If in doubt, take them (the towers) out’ is their rallying rhyme of our times.

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