Sunday, 26 August 2012

A classic example of biased and unscientific study - K.S. Parthasarathy

THE RECOMMENDATION: The mobile towers’ EMF exposure limit was recently lowered to 1/10th of the existing prescribed limit as a matter of abundant precaution. Photo: Nagara Gopal 
For the past several years, there has been growing concern about the health impact of radiation from mobile towers. In 2008, Government of India adopted the Guidelines developed by the International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection (ICNIRP) for Electromagnetic radiation from mobile towers.The values chosen for the permissible Power Density are 4.5 W/Sqm for 900 MHz and 9 W/Sqm. for 1800 MHz.
THE RECOMMENDATION: The mobile towers’ EMFexposure limit was recently lowered to 1/10th of the existing prescribed limit as a matter of abundant
precaution. Photo: Nagara Gopal Based on media reports and public concerns, the Government set up an Inter-Ministerial Committee (IMC) of specialists on August 24, 2010. The Committee examined the environmental and health related concerns and indicated that most of the laboratory studies were unable to find a direct link between exposure to radio frequency radiation and health;and the scientific studies as yet have not been able to confirm a cause and effect relationship between radio frequency radiation and health. The effect of emission from cell phone towers is not known yet with certainty.
However, the IMC recommended lowering the mobile towers’ EMF exposure limits to 1/10th of the existing prescribed limit as a matter of abundant precaution. The Government accepted the recommendation and issued directions making the new norms applicable from September 1, 2012.
Among the inputs submitted to the Department of Telecom was a document "Report on Cell Tower Radiation" authored by Prof. Girish Kumar of the Department of Electrical Engineering, IIT Bombay.
The report listed symptoms and diseases allegedly caused by electromagnetic radiation. The only items not included in it were jealousy and baldness! The author mined part of the scary data from "papers" of Arthur Firstenberg, the founder director of the "Cellular phone task force" which is “dedicated to halting the expansion of wireless technology because it cannot be made safe". Firstenberg filed and lost many suits against the spread of wireless technology.
Wikipedia, noted his claim that electromagnetic fields from his neighbour's cell phone are destroying his health and that he sued his neighbour seeking damages $ 530,000 for refusing to turn off her cell phone and other electronic devices!Firstenberg is a symbol of the collective schizophrenia against RF radiation.
Prof. Kumar uncritically accepted the Bio-initiative Report 2007 (BIR), a booklet well known for its lack of balance.
Advocacy document
The Committee on Man and Radiation (COMAR), a technical committee of the Engineering in Medicine and Biology Society (EMBS) of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) noted that BIR is an advocacy document. BIR itself conceded that it was written “to document the reasons why current public exposure standards for non-ionizing electromagnetic radiation are no longer good enough to protect public health.”
Fourteen individuals under the direction of a 4-person organizing committee wrote BIR. “Most of its 21 sections are authored by single individuals or (in a few cases) pairs or trios of authors; the section ‘Key Scientific Evidence and Public Health Policy Recommendations’ was written by a pair of individuals and appears to reflect their views only,” COMAR clarified in a paper in Health Physics Journal. “There is no indication of how the members of the committee were chosen or how balance was provided in the group of contributors, a majority of whom have public records of criticism of existing exposure standards and guidelines.”
COMAR added that since appearing on the Internet in 2007, the BIR has received much media attention but, more recently, has been severely criticized by health organizations and scientific groups such as EMF-NET, a coordinating committee of the European Commission 6th Frame Work Programme, The Netherlands’ Health Council and Australian Centre for Radiofrequency Bioeffects Research
BIR report was slammed by these agencies thus: “written in an alarmist and emotive language and the arguments have no scientific support from well-conducted EMF research;” “There is a lack of balance in the report; no mention is made in fact of reports that do not concur with authors’ statements and conclusions. It is “not an objective and balanced reflection of the current state of scientific knowledge;” and “As it stands it merely provides a set of views that are not consistent with the consensus of science.”
In May 2010, The INTERPHONE Study concluded that overall, no increase in risk of brain tumours was observed with the use of mobile phones. “There were suggestions of an increased risk of glioma at the highest exposure levels, but biases and error prevent a causal interpretation. The possible effects of long-term heavy use of mobile phones require further investigation", the authors added
The INTERPHONE study supported by WHO is the largest case–control study of mobile phones and brain tumours conducted to date, including the largest numbers of users with at least 10 years of exposure and the greatest cumulative hours of use of any study. Thirteen countries including UK, Sweden, France and Germany collaborated.
"Interphone study in 2010 mentions that excessive use of mobile phones has doubled to quadrupled brain tumor risk. However, they claim that for an average user, increase in cancer cases is not significant," the Prof. Kumar’s report says. By this assertion, the report is misinterpreting the lucid conclusion provided by the study
Prof. Kumar argued that the allowable power level must be brought down in India. "A number of adverse health effects have been documented at levels below the FCC guidelines, which include altered white blood cells in children; childhood leukemia; impaired motor function, reaction time, and memory; headaches, dizziness, fatigue, weakness, and insomnia etc", the report said, possibly based on the much criticized Bio-initiative Report 2007.
Prof. Kumar had cherry-picked many references to substantiate such claims. International agencies such as the WHO and national agencies have not accepted such preposterous claims.
A newspaper reported that in a building in Mumbai four cases of cancer were linked to radiation from a mobile phone tower. Based on this, Prof. Kumar estimated the power level at the building to be about 0.1 W/ m2 and claimed that the tower was the cause of cancer in “several” people in 2-3 years’ time!
He also measured a power level of 7,068 microwatt/m2 in the home of a cancer patient who allegedly developed cancer within an year of installation of a mobile phone tower, and links the cancer to radiation from the tower!
Arriving at a conclusion based on studying one or two individuals is not how epidemiological studies are conducted.

Former Secretary, Atomic Energy Regulatory Board

Imagining a new national politics - Yogendra Yadav

The Anna Hazare movement must measure success not in terms of electoral gains but its ability to set the political agenda

There is at last some clarity on the politics of the anti-corruption movements. Baba Ramdev’s dramatic call for Congress-hatao and the ‘political turn’ of the Anna movement have confirmed that a movement aimed at rooting out corruption cannot defer a direct encounter with party politics for very long. The manner in which both decisions were announced left something to be desired. The announcement by ‘Team Anna’ invited serious criticism that it was a hasty afterthought, a face-saving device or, worse, a sinister design. Baba Ramdev’s flip-flop and final dalliance with the Bharatiya Janata Party and other non-Congress forces irrespective of their own record on corruption were hardly expected to add to his credibility. Yet this clarity is to be welcomed, for it opens an unusual window of opportunity for people’s politics.

Three tendencies

Right from its beginnings last year, the anti-corruption movement comprised three tendencies. One section was staunchly opposed to all parties, all politicians and all forms of politics. More pronounced in the first phase of the movement, this anti-politics tendency had worrisome authoritarian overtones. The second tendency translated anti-corruption as anti-Congress and did not care if its actions ended up aligning with the opposition parties, especially the BJP. Eventually owned up by Baba Ramdev and briefly preferred by Team Anna last year, this tendency has evoked suspicion about the hidden hand of the sangh parivar in the anti-corruption movement. 

The third tendency, which has finally prevailed within the Anna movement, though not without dissent, searched for its own, alternative form of politics. While this has generally been understood as forming a new political party, the impulse underlying this tendency awaits more careful elaboration. A formal separation of this third tendency from the politics of anti-politics and mere non-Congressism may appear to have weakened the popular upsurge and let the ruling class off the hook. Seen in a wider context, however, this development has opened up the possibility of new ideas, energies and allies for alternative politics of people’s movements.

A political vacuum marks the people’s movement sector. Ever since its emergence in the 1980s, the movement sector — comprising farmers’ movements, Dalit movements, women’s movements, environmental movements and the movements for information and deepening of democracy — is one of the most vibrant spaces in the democratic arena. These movements are inherently political in that they seek to challenge the settled relations of power. They have quietly shifted the terms of political engagement and brought new issues to the foreground. Legislation and policies like the Right to Information, the Mahatma Gandhi Rural Employment Guarantee Act, the Forest Act and the new Land Acquisition and Rehabilitations Act are a tribute to the power and creativity of these movements.

Yet these movements have not succeeded in posing a direct challenge to mainstream politics. Attempts to establish political parties representing the movements failed to cross the high threshold of viability in our electoral system. These include the Samata Sangathan and Karnataka Rajya Rayyata Sangha in the 1980s, the Samajwadi Janparishad and Chhattisgarh Mukti Morcha in the 1990s, and the Loksatta Party, Women’s Political Front, Uttarakhand Jan Vahini and Sarvodaya Karnataka in the last decade. Attempts at forming a grand coalition of these movements in electoral politics did not work in the last two Lok Sabha elections.

These efforts have involved some of the finest activists and thinkers of our time. There have been many creative organisational experiments and ideological innovations. Yet, they remained largely invisible: most educated and politically informed Indians may not have heard about these. Even the most powerful mass movements failed to translate their support in electoral terms. In order to give effect to their political agenda, these movements remained dependent on the very political establishment they critiqued and struggled against.

During this period, mainstream politics became more insulated from popular struggles and movements. Here’s the paradox though: ever since the sudden decline of the Congress in 1989, the third space has expanded while the third force has shrunk. The failure of the Janata Dal in the early 1990s and the collapse of the United Front experiment in the mid-1990s meant that much of the expanding political energy of the third space drifted towards the two poles represented by the United Progressive Alliance and the National Democratic Alliance. The Left used to be a natural home for popular struggles and movements, but its ideological dominance, moral authority and political presence have been severely eroded. The energy of the third space is in search of a national political vehicle of its own.

This is where the anti-corruption movement offers something of a breakthrough. It is after more than three decades that a movement outside the organised party sector has registered a nationwide presence and visibility. More than the number of people that participated in highly visible protests in Delhi, what matters is that the Anna Hazare-led movement spawned smaller protests in a large number of towns and even villages. A fairly large proportion of citizens who did not participate in any protest heard about it and sympathised with it. The activists, supporters and sympathisers of the anti-corruption movement constitute a larger pool of potential support for alternative politics than generated by any other popular movement in recent times. After a very long time, a movement promises to cross the high threshold of viability required for creating a national political alternative.

At the same time, this is no more than a promise of a breakthrough. The support was not based on any grassroots mobilisation and was almost entirely triggered by extraordinary media coverage in August last year. Therefore the support base is very mixed and variable and could well be ephemeral. Besides, a good deal of the support for the anti-corruption movement may not translate into support for alternative politics.

Ideological issues

There are ideological issues here. A single issue like corruption could serve as the focal point of mobilisation of otherwise contrary forces in a movement. This was a smart choice: the more ‘classical’ radical issues do not permit cross-sectional mobilisation, nor do they resonate in popular consciousness. At the same time, corruption understood in a narrow way cannot be the centre-piece of an alternative politics. Minimally, an understanding of corruption needs to go beyond bribery of individual politicians and bureaucrats; corruption embedded into policies and perpetuated by the system needs to be addressed. There have been legitimate concerns about where this movement stands vis-à-vis bigger questions like communalism, caste-based injustice, crony capitalism and ecological destruction. Anna’s movement was wise to distance itself from communal and anti-Dalit positions, but it is to be seen if it can expand its ideological bandwidth to include larger issues raised by people’s movements in the last couple of decades.

The movement also faces serious organisational and leadership challenges. The success of the movement required a leader like Anna Hazare. The challenge of quick response in the face of sudden success also required decision making by a small and flexible group. This is not suited for making a transition to political organisation. Any form of political organisation would require a clearly established and consultative procedure for mature decision-making. The leadership of the movement would need to reflect the social diversity of the country and the rising aspirations of the hitherto marginalised social groups.

The larger challenge

Finally, there is the challenge of political and organisational vision. While ending the fast, ‘Team Anna’ committed itself to creating an alternative political force. But it was soon translated into a new political party aiming at electoral success in 2014. It remains to be seen if this new effort is alive to the larger challenge of imagining and building alternative politics. Specifically, the challenge is to visualise a political organisation that does not replicate the structural flaws of mainstream political parties. The movement also faces the challenge of looking beyond the next election and redefining what political ‘success’ means. Instead of exposing itself to conventional measures of success in terms of votes and seats, the movement needs to think of its success in terms of its impact on the political agenda and the established political culture. Its success depends not so much on whether it wins an election but on how much of positive energy it releases into the political system.

In other words, the anti-corruption movement offers a possible breakthrough for creating an alternative politics, but it faces serious mobilisational, ideological and organisational challenges. Fortunately, the people’s movements can complement the anti-corruption movement in this respect. A fusion of the tendency within the anti-corruption movement committed to a political alternative and the stream within people’s movements wedded to the idea of alternative politics is the need of the hour. Such a fusion is historically possible and desirable, but forging it in real life is going to be a very difficult and delicate operation. Medha Patekar and Aruna Roy, two of the leading and most credible voices in the movement sector, have cautioned against this move. They are not non-political and certainly not anti-political, but they are not convinced of the merit of turning a popular movement into a political party. Keeping their concerns in mind and yet trying to forge a new political instrument is the challenge of our times. This is the challenge for all those who dare to think beyond the limited political alternatives that we have had to live with.
(The author is a political analyst and has been associated with various people’s movements for the last three decades.)

‘Cellular industry complying with DoT norms’

Special Correspondent
The Cellular Operators Association of India (COAI) on Tuesday said that the mobile phone industry continues to be compliant with the new emission norms proposed by the Department of Telecom (DoT), which is among the most stringent in the world. 

“The telecom industry in India has always been proactive to adopt and ensure compliance with the international safety standards on electro magnetic field (EMF) exposure limits, upholding public health and environment as its foremost concern,” COAI said in a statement.

In 2008, the industry and the DoT took the lead in setting up standards for EMF emissions, the best standards operational in the world were reviewed and the International Commission on Non Ionising Radiation Protection( ICNIRP) standards were adopted as they provided the safest margins which would ensure no adverse effects to the health of the people, it said..

Recently, when the inter ministerial committee, as a precautionary measure, recommended that the standards be lowered to 1/10th of the present ICNIRP standards; despite there being no scientific evidence stating any increased health benefit from the proposed directive, the industry has gone an extra mile to ensure compliance with the same, COAI said.

Massive transition

“Being sensitive to the concerns of the people, the industry voluntarily undertook proactive measures and underwent a massive transition in its network infrastructure which was redesigned significantly to meet the prescribed norms,” Rajan S Mathews, Director General, COAI said. He said that considering the scarce spectrum resources available in India compared to the other countries, population density and traffic it was an extremely difficult task in itself.

Public safety

“We are hopeful that our partnership with the government will continue in this sphere to assuage the concerns that the public have regarding the health effects of EMF emissions from mobile towers and ensure that they are informed of the true scientific facts on the matter and be assured that their safety is being safeguarded with utmost sincerity and priority by the industry,” he added.

Get cracking on corruption - By Nripendra Misra

09th June 2012, The New Indian Express
The issue of ending endemic corruption, including combating the menace of black money, needs to be addressed with both sincerity and speed. The government claims to have taken a series of measures to meeting the challenges posed by corruption in public life. However, the impression remains that it is ineffective in tackling the scourge of corruption, which is affecting all walks of our life and making the common citizen, who has no ‘Mai Baap’ (money or influence), its victim.

The United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi in December 2010 outlined a concrete 5-point agenda before the 83rd Congress plenary session that included fast-tracking of all corruption cases to restore people’s faith in the political system; full transparency in public procurement and contracts through a clear legislation and procedures; relinquishing discretionary quota by all Congress ministers at the Centre and in the states; and formulating an open and competitive system of exploiting natural resources.

A review of the status of implementation of these action-points reveals that much more needs to be done. The new system of fast-track courts to handle corruption cases is yet to take shape and court proceedings continue as before. Even the demand for fixing a time-frame for deciding pending criminal cases against elected representatives has not materialised, with a number of public interest litigations being filed on the subject. There is a popular demand for electoral reforms, specifically to prohibiting criminals from contesting elections. The new public procurement law is facing stiff opposition from vested interests in the government. The issue of complete withdrawal of discretionary powers has happened sporadically at certain levels of government functioning but this is not being practised uniformly throughout the government set-up.

An open and competitive system of exploiting natural resources is still at the examination stage. The Chawla Committee has submitted its recommendations but this remains a complicated subject, requiring time and expertise to give shape to it completely. Even the simplest of the 5-point programme that requires an austere, simple lifestyle and refraining from indulging in a vulgar display of wealth has not been converted into an action programme. It is because of this slow pace of implementation that the Centre has received flak from the public.

Along with this, the Union government has addressed socio-political challenges of combating corruption as a law and order issue. Having been responsible for maintaining law and order during my career, I can say with some conviction that the police forces can handle the challenges of law and order effectively, if there is clarity of the mission to be accomplished. Socio-political challenges should have been addressed through good governance made possible by effective and timely processes of government decision-making. Unfortunately, law and order issues and socio-economic challenges intermingled in the government’s response to public agitations by Baba Ramdev and Anna Hazare creating confusion.

The Lokpal Bill has been finally introduced in Parliament and is currently awaiting the nod of the Rajya Sabha. Perhaps, it may not see the light of the day in its present form. One fails to understand the political attempts to complicate matters that can be kept simple. The institutions of the Lokpal and Lokayukta need not be set-up under an overarching law. Even if it is legally and constitutionally tenable, one needs to respect the federal character of the Indian polity, particularly when many states already have a state-level Lokayukta and only require upgrading their powers.

There is no need for the apex anti-corruption body of the Lokpal to have an organic link with the Citizens’ Right to Grievance Bill, whose objective is to reform the state of public service delivery by giving every citizen the right to time-bound public services. Why have an overarching Citizens’ Right to Grievance Bill, when many states have already enacted their own public services guarantee acts? At best, the government could have enacted a model Lokayukta and right to public services law for the states to adopt and emulate. Perhaps, the imperative to meet the challenges from Team Anna led to the series of measures which have not been examined thoroughly either in terms of its acceptability by states, or its administrative and financial feasibility and its effective implementation.

Now certain individuals from Team Anna have made unwelcome remarks on the proceedings and MPs. The issue is that Parliament need not take cognisance of every utterance made by a few organised groups. To protect the sanctity of Parliament, members could have passed a law similar to those uploading key national symbols like the national flag, protecting them from the onslaught of public outrage. By debating Team Anna’s utterances, Parliament has given undue recognition to a select group of social activists, enabling them to garner more political mileage than is due. Individuals and groups trying to weaken parliamentary institutions are no doubt hurting the cause of democracy. The institutions responsible for running the wheels of democracy have to respond with greater care. Let them not give undue recognition to those who are not mindful of propriety.

The real answer to Team Anna is through concrete actions taken on key demands made at different points of time, be it on electoral reforms or on curbing the role of black money in the economy. The government need not reinvent the wheel on these issues; instead it should refer to the useful suggestions and legislations made by various government-appointed committees like the Law Commission and Administrative Reforms Commission that lie in the public domain.

Parliament members would do well to debate these recommendations than to discuss the conduct of a few activists. With so many important Bills pending before Parliament including The Judicial Standards and Accountability Bill, The Electronic Services Delivery Bill, The National Food Security Bill, Citizens’ Right to Grievance Redress Bill, The Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, etc, the time to act for the central government is now. With the clock ticking before the next public outburst on corruption erupts, Parliament cannot afford to delay the passage of the Lokpal Bill for want of time. As the old adage goes, action, not words, is the most effective tool to silence critics.

Nripendra Misra is ex-chairman, TRAI and director, Public Interest Foundation. 

Saahaagika: A dream realised

By Shalini Ilanahai     13th September 2011 11:43 PM

Follow your dreams, they just might come true. Testimony to this is Bhavana Botta, 23-year-old commerce graduate from Ethiraj College, whose start-up venture Saahagika, launched recently, tells a story of triumph over the odds. And most important, it was a realisation of her childhood dream to become a new-age entrepreneur.

As the door of the quaint silk boutique, nestled in Srinagar Colony in Saidapet, swings open you step into the cosy ambience of the store; your eyes light upon silk stoles with intricate designs, artfully crafted brass figurines and an array of saris and kurtas in vibrant colours. And at the helm of this collection is Bhavana who greets you with a warm smile. Her passionate quest to be a conscientious entrepreneur, Bhavana says, inspired her to set up Saahaagika. Her business idea, based on Ahimsa silks and Organic silks (alternative silk fibre and silk crafted without using chemicals), was also an initiative to encourage sericulturists and tribals who had evolved an ethical method of silk cultivation.
Bhavana, who was born with cerebral palsy, was always keen on starting her own enterprise for youngsters, says her mother Kalpana who translates Bhavana’s answers by following her eyeball movement, with the aid of an alpha-numeric chart. She directs her mother to take care of a customer poring over her niche collection of saris.

“Initially she wanted to start a mobile library because she had seen how difficult it was for people in wheelchairs to access libraries. Then she toyed with the idea of setting up a coffee shop. After a lot of research she finally came up with the idea of selling Ahimsa silk,” explains Kalpana.

She took her inspiration from Kusuma Rajiaha, pioneer in Ahimsa silks. Bhavana contacted him with the help of family members to get his insights. She also set out to understand the demand for Ahimsa silk in the market so that she could make a foolproof business plan. She visited nearly 12 boutiques in the city and conducted a survey among her family members to gauge their buying patterns, says Kalpana.

Bhavana entered into an agreement with Jharkhand Handicraft Development Corporation to source the material. “She then took a loan for Rs 2 lakh from IOB to buy the stock,” says Kalpana, underlining Bhavana’s determination to be self-reliant.

Bhavana was aided by her sister Nandini and her friends, who were inspired by her drive to set up her own business.

“I wanted to do it for Bhavana. I admired her goal to become an entrepreneur,” says Aishwarya, an engineering student who became a model for Saahaagika.

“Every time we took a photo, Bhavana would look at it and approve it. I really liked the way she did it,” adds Aishwarya.

“Bhavana was particular about the colour combination for the website. If I did something wrong, she would whack me and make me get it right,” grins Nandini who came up with the idea of creating a website for the boutique. Her supportive friends Ashwath, Sridhar and Srikanth, all aspiring designers, conceptualised the silky design for the brochure and the concept for the logo, and fine-tuned the eight-hour photo shoot.

When the shop was inaugurated Bhavana’s first client was Poonam Natarajan, chairperson of the National Trust of India and former director of Vidya Sagar. “It was very sentimental for all of us because she was the one who began Bhavana’s rehabilitation when she was six months old,”
says Kalpana.

At present, a modified Eye Gaze technology is being designed in IITM to help Bhavana manage the stocks independently in the shop setting.

Bhavana has big plans to upscale her business into a boutique with a coffee shop and in-house library in a year’s time. The gung-ho entrepreneur is also keen to take her venture online.