About the Video: On 31st January 2012, the residents of the close knit community of Abreu Vaddo in Saligao village in North Goa awoke to the sounds of rumbling machinery and the earth shifting under their feet. The people were told that the ground was making way for a new mobile phone tower. The community was shocked at this uninformed decision to erect an imposing metal structure which seemed to jeopardize the old and well-planned neighbourhood which prides itself on its serenity and sense of security.
The very next day the concerned citizens began their continuing struggle against the building of the tower. They claim that it threatens their health, well-being and peace of mind while destroying the traditional even quaint sensibilities which make Saligao the beautiful village that it is. The Right to Information (RTI) application filed by the people revealed that no site inspection was carried out prior to the excavation and that the mandatory clearances from the various departments of environment, health etc. had not yet been submitted to the Panchayat. The Sarpanch confirms this fact. The community also alleges that the team behind the tower never consulted with the people who are liable to be affected by the project.
The tower team maintains that since the tower is an ‘industrial construction’, it does not come under the purview of the Panchayat and the community. They also claim to be constructing a ‘green tower’ in accordance with the guidelines prescribed by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation protection. But the group backed up and refused to sanction a guarantee when the people asked them if the health and well-being of the community would remain unaffected. The people’s movement claims that the majority of the inhabitants of Saligao are opposed to the tower and they have the numbers and signatures to prove it.
The land on which the tower is being built belongs to the Delaney family, long-time residents of Saligao. Cyril DeMello is the owner of Demello Telepower Pvt. Ltd, who has leased the land from the Delaneys. He has to honour his commitment to communication giants Bharti Airtel and get the tower ready by 26th March, 2012. Mario Venancio Cordeiro is the contractor behind the construction and has played a key role in planning and executing the project. They submitted an application before the Saligao Village Panchayat on 15th December 2012 and obtained a No Objection Certificate (NOC) to go ahead and get the other permissions required. But these documents have not yet been submitted to the Panchayat, only after which, it can give the tower team a Construction Licence. The people’s movement maintains that this team was working furtively for a whole year to get the deal pushed through without the community getting a whiff of the developments.
It is the Delaney’s involvement in the case that has disturbed and disheartened the people of Abreu Vaddo. Mario Mascarenhas, one of the villagers who helped in organizing the dissent against the construction calls the family ‘community leaders in every sense of the word.’ He acknowledges the social, civil-society, religious and educational leadership that the family has given to the community and commends the sacrifices that they have made for the greater good, especially in times of turmoil. This admiration and respect by the community for the Delaneys, has only deepened the feeling of betrayal, he confesses.
Awaiting a hearing on the issue, the Mapusa Sessions Court has issued a stop-notice on the construction. While the community is hopeful, the tower team claims that they have the law on their side (law and justice being two very different things, in the times we live in). Making the case for the people’s movement, Mario cites proceedings from last May when the World Health Organization was forced by medical and research teams from across the world to revise its stand on cell phone radiation. In a landmark decision, they declared the radiation in the classification category 'Group 2B' – shorthand for ‘possibly carcinogenic.’ He cites the admirable safety standards that states like Himachal Pradesh have implemented which effectively ban towers from being near human habitation. The community referred to Prof. Girish Kumar from IIT Mumbai who has conducted extensive research on Radiation from Cell Phone towers and has actively advocated for strengthening of norms and guidelines while keeping the safety and well-being of the public in mind.
For the people of Saligao, everything they knew and loved about their neighbourhood is at stake. From day one, they have been articulate and open in their demands. They have been meticulous, non-violent and wholly admirable in their fight. The truth is on their side. They hope and pray that justice will follow.
The Issue: The World Health Organization has classified mobile phone radiation and 'broadly all sources of RF radiation', in the category of ‘possibly carcinogenic’ and has recommended that a 'precautionary principle' be voluntarily adopted. It maintains that while there is still uncertainty over the possible hazards there is a need to take action for potentially serious risk. Towers are a continuous and strong base for the radiation. While research on the effects has been inconclusive, it has been recommended strongly that they be constructed away from human settlements.
The radiation from Radio Frequency and Electro Magnetic Fields manifests itself gradually. There can be neuro-psychiatric problems like headache, memory loss, nausea, dizziness, tremors, muscle spasms, numbness, altered reflexes, muscle and joint pain, leg/foot pain, depression, and sleep disturbance. It is the people who live closest to the beams that the towers radiate, that are most afflicted.
The safety standards followed by India are some of the most permissible in the world and experts say that it does not take even into consideration the hazards of the emitted radiation. The fine/penalty to be paid for a construction that does not meet the guidelines is paltry allowing most companies to pay their way through the illegality.
Call to Action: The community wants the tower shifted because there is enough of serious research to show that the tower, with its 24×7 radiation, poses the risk of serious health hazards, over long periods of exposure. It is this risk that the village does not want to take, and has requested that the tower be shifted to a safe location, away from residential areas.
About Our Community Correspondent: Sulochana Pendekar from Siolim, Goa has worked hard and against odds all her life. Her mother has been her inspiration throughout and its women like her that Sulochana wants to give a voice to. She is a passionate media and community health activist and intends to use her platform as a Community Correspondent to bridge the gap between the grassroots and civil society and spread awareness on key issues like health, sanitation, government schemes for women and children etc. Watch Sulochana’s videos here.
The Telegraph- WHO declares Mobile Phones ‘Possibly Carcinogenic’
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