Saturday, June 8, 2013

Mumbai Mirror News

Juhi Chawla and Prakash Munshi take us through a presentation on the dangers of exposure to mobile tower radiation There are 30


Juhi Chawla performs the most challenging role of her career in demanding a stringent mobile phone tower policy.

Actor Juhi Chawla is in a fix. Her nine-year-old son wants a mobile phone for his birthday. For any other parent, it would have been an innocent request, but not for Chawla, who is the face of a campaign against the indiscriminate installation of mobile tower antennae and the hazards of electro magnetic radiation (EMR).

"I realise now that it is not just the antennae that are ruining our health. Another culprit sits right in our hands," she says, pointing to a cell phone lying on a coffee table in the plush drawing room of her Malabar Hill home.

Mobile phones emit signals via radio waves which are made up of radio-frequency energy, a form of EMR. Although not definitive, several studies have raised questions about EMR's link to diminished sperm count, altered brain metabolism and behavioural changes in kids. The World Health Organisation now lists mobile phone use in the same 'carcinogenic hazard' category as engine exhaust, chloroform and lead.

It was three years ago that Chawla's entrepreneur husband Jai Mehta pointed to her that Sahyadri, the state guest house that stood 40 metres away from their nine-storied residence, had grown tentacles. "There were 14 cell phone towers with antennae facing our home," she remembers.

Chawla began by reading up on EMR, got an agency to carry out an independent audit of radiation levels in her home, and shot off a polite but firm letter to the then chief minister Ashok Chavan and the Malabar Hill Residents' Association.

Sahyadri's management responded by changing the direction of some of the antennae, only to shift exposure to others. Over the next 10 months, her letters were lost in bureaucratic red tape. She would have given up had it not been for a gentle but concerned nudge from neighbour and fellow activist Prakash Munshi. To draw the CM's attention, Munshi and Chawla put up banners in their neighbourhood. "The media questioned him and because the elections were around the corner, in two weeks, all the towers were gone, except the boosters," says Chawla triumphantly.

What would have ended with cleaning up her neighbourhood turned into a movement for a stringent mobile tower policy. "We realised we could not stop," she says. "Worried residents from Peddar Road, Grant Road, Dadar and Matunga were calling us for help."

That her resolve is showing results was evident at a recent meeting of 30 citizen groups with DOT (Department of Telecom) and civic body representatives, who assured the gathering that an advisory committee would be set up to guide the state and local bodies on the issue. "This committee is expected to be independent and not funded by the telecom industry. That's a start," she says.

Chawla is aware that all studies correlating mobile antennae radiation to cancer have been shot down by a vocal and powerful lobby of scientists and telecom companies, but she argues, "If they (telecom firms) were sure there was nothing to it, they wouldn't have entertained our requests."

The troubling stories of residents living in close proximity of mobile tower antennae, and a conversation with neurosurgeon Dr As