Rajini film imply radiation harms birds, experts differ

The movie starring Rajnikanth and Akshay Kumar, however, is themed around such a linkage notwithstanding poor scientific credentials in support of such a theory.

As the new Rajni movie 2.0 with the underlying theme of cell phone and mobile tower radiation harming birds hits the screen, Indian ornithologists denied the existence of such a link on the basis of existing scientific knowledge.

“People feel because of cell phone and mobile tower radiation, the number of house sparrows are on a decline. But the feeling is not science. There is no scientific proof between electromagnetic radiation and absence of sparrows,” Asad Rahmani, former director of Bombay Natural History Society told DH.

Eight years ago Rahmani chaired an expert group set up by the Union Ministry of Environment and Forest to study the possible impacts of communication towers on wildlife including birds and bees with a special focus on house sparrows.

The panel was set up after a Parliament member raised the issue of ill effects of mobile towers on birds in the Lok Sabha.

After an exhaustive study of the published scientific papers – the 88-page report carries a bibliography running into 55 pages – the panel concluded that there are no long-term data available on the environmental impacts of electromagnetic radiation and studies on the impact of radiation on birds and other wildlife are almost non-existent in India.

The movie starring Rajnikanth and Akshay Kumar, however, is themed around such a linkage notwithstanding poor scientific credentials in support of such a theory.

On the eve of its release, the Cellular Operator's Association of India wrote to the Central Board of Film Certification how 2.0 would spread misinformation about the adverse impact of mobile towers and mobile phones.

“The movie is based on the theme that electromagnetic field emissions from mobile phones and towers are harmful to living creatures and the environment including birds and human beings. It would create unfounded fear and mass paranoia,” COAI director general Rajan Mathews said in a statement.

Ornithologist Mohammad Dilawar who studied house sparrows extensively over the years said it was time to carry out a study by mapping the cell phone tower locations and analysing the population of birds near those sites.

Currently, there are nearly 117 crore mobile phone connections and 4.61 lakh cell phone towers in India.

“Electromagnetic field radiation could be one of the factors besides lack of food, loss of nesting sites and decline in grubs in the garden that was the source of protein for the chicks. There's a group in Spain which showed an adverse link between radiation and birds, but we need Indian research,” said Dilwar, who runs Nature Forever Society.

As a house sparrow's life-span in the wild varies between 1-3 years, the study should continue at least for 3-4 years, he said. “Such long-term studies are required, no doubt about that,” corroborated R Suresh Kumar, a biologist at the Wildlife Institute of India, Dehradun.

Rahmani didn't rule out the need to carry out long term scientific studies but provided an alternate theory on the decline of house sparrows.

He said the drop in the sparrow population is more due to loss of food (grains are transported in sealed plastic bags that prevent spillover), habitat (modern buildings don't have holes that sparrows need for nesting) and pesticide use in the urban lawns killing the grubs (soft-bodied insects consumed by sparrow chicks).

“In the countryside, there's no dearth of house sparrows. And if radiation is the culprit, then why pigeons are still around in the cities,” asked the veteran naturalist.

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Rajini film imply radiation harms birds, experts differ

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