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Will cell phone radiation kill off birds, like shown in 2.0?

By Syed Firdaus Ashraf
December 20, 2018 12:10 IST
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'Cell phone towers with 4G technology might certainly impact the lives of birds, and humans.'
'This needs a greater amount of investigation, research and mapping in the country.'

IMAGE: School students make a formation of a sparrow during a programme to create awareness to save the bird in Chennai. Photograph: Babu/Reuters

Mohammed Dilawar, the ornithologist known as India's sparrow man, is happy that Rajinikanth's latest movie 2.0 highlights the issue of birds and how cell phone tower radiation affects their existence.

"The movie has highlighted the importance of birds's lives and I am sure people across the country will take this issue seriously in future because Rajinikanth and Akshay Kumar have highlighted the importance of birds to our lives," Dilawar tells's Syed Firdaus Ashraf.

2.0 shows that birds are dying because of the electromagnetic radiation emitted from cell phone towers. How far is it true?

There has been research done abroad which says there is some kind of impact on birds due to cell phone towers. I was part of a committee that looked into this issue 10 years ago.

The committee was constituted by the ministry of environment and forests to find out the impact of cell phones on birds, bees and wildlife in India.

A lot of literature review was done then and it was found that the decline of sparrows in cities is not only because of cell phone towers. There are other reasons also, like lack of food and pesticides which led to a decline in the number of sparrows.

as a scientist I would not comment on it until detailed research is done, in which mapping of cell phone towers and bird population is done across the country.


So your report was not conclusive in stating that cell phone tower radiation was the only reason for the decline in the bird population.

There is no long-term study being done in India on this issue. Also, in India, there are various variables which differ from one region to other region.

For example, the bird density, the kind of landscape that we have and the kind of technology which we use (differs from region to region), but certainly electromagnetic radiation or EMR is a kind of pollution which is invisible.

You cannot see it the way you see smog in Mumbai or Delhi or, for that matter, water pollution where water changes colour.

Is there anywhere in the world where research has found that birds are dying because of cell phone tower radiation?

It is not exactly about death, but about impact.

For example, research by Ruiz-Martinez in Spain concluded that as the radiation of cell phone towers increase, the bird population decreases.

As the human population decreases, bird population increases.

So the number of cell phone towers with 4G technology might certainly impact the lives of birds, and of humans. This needs a greater amount of investigation, research and mapping in the country.

Is it true that bird eggs get deformed because of cell phone tower radiation?

Electromagnetic radiation might affect egg formation at times, but again, they are the same set of radiation which is there in a microwave oven.

With 4G technology coming in, we need to have a greater study and understanding about this issue.

Is no one interested in studying this even after 10 years of your research?

Unfortunately, the issue of electromagnetic radiation has not got due justice.

As a scientist, whether it impacts birds, humans or not is a totally different story, but at least we have to carry out a study and find out whether the electromagnetic radiation is within permissible limits or not.

The cell phone tower association says it is always within permissible limits.

As a scientist, I say that we need to have a complete mapping of electromagnetic radiation in the country. If it is in permissible limit that is wonderful, but there always has to be measurement.

How we have various measurements in metros to measure air quality and the moment particulate matters of pollution rises the alarm bill rings in a city. People try to solve problems of pollution by, say, starting an odd and even day car system in Delhi.

This kind of monitoring must also be done for electromagnetic radiation as it is an emerging pollutant which is invisible.

Lots of times the common man is not aware that electromagnetic radiation is also under the pollution category.

Is there any study in India which says the bird population is decreasing because of cell phone tower radiation?

The population of birds has been steadily decreasing across the landscape of the world. But this is for various reasons, like habitat destruction, increasing number of bird catchings, etc.

In fact, if you google you will find out that we have lost 80 percent of wildlife and birds in the last 60 years.

Electromagnetic radiation is also one of the reasons just like micro plastic found in water. At this point in time habitat destruction is also due to poor water quality.

Why is serious thought not given to this issue?

It is because EMR is invisible pollution.

It is like out of sight, out of mind, even if there are various citizens groups in India like by actress Juhi Chawla who is running a campaign against cell phone towers. Humans too are getting affected because of cell phone towers.

The courts have given judgment in favour of cell phone towers. The matter has now gone before the Supreme Court.

I will not comment on the case since it is sub judice. But I'd like to thank Rajinikanth and Akshay Kumar for raising the birds issue in 2.0,.

It is a wonderful sign. This has brought a once forgotten pollutant back in the limelight.

If you see, on every cell phone tower they install warning signals that harmful radiation is emitting. It is by law.

You have been conducting research on sparrows extensively. Did you find that cell phone tower radiation is the cause of the decline in ther sparrow population?

Unfortunately, in the case of sparrows, all emerging threats came at one time, whether it was electromagnetic radiation or architectural changes in our building construction style or change in the lifestyle of Indian women.

Earlier, older buildings used to have a cavity in their structures which was used by sparrows to nest, but now the buildings are matchbox shaped and don't leave space for sparrows to make a home.

As far as women are concerned, they used to clean grains on balconies or in verandahs where they would discard poor quality grains. These grains were a major food source for these birds. Now they don't get such food as lifestyles have changed.

Can the sparrow become extinct?

No. Fortunately, we have good numbers of sparrows in the rural landscape and certain urban patches.

Birds become extinct when only a few hundred individuals are left. That is not the case for sparrows at the moment.

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Syed Firdaus Ashraf /