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Experts and studies find mobile phone towers are causes behind drastic decline of house sparrow population


The Indian mobile telephonyr is one of the fastest growing  industries in the world, and the success story continues unabated, with the sector growing at more than 35 percent annually during the last decade in terms of subscribers. India is the world’s second largest wireless market after China, with over 700 million subscribers and estimated that by 2013, over 1 billion people will be having cell phone connection in India. The tremendous growth of this industry, experts and studies find, is one of the prime causes of drastic decline of House Sparrows (Passer domesticus), the small bird that lives in nest colonies close to human habitats. Today, in absence of government policy, large numbers of mobile phone towers are being installed in a haphazard manner, without scientific manner or under strict regulations across urban and rural areas including sparsely populated areas in the country and the electromagnetic radiation from the mobile phones and the towers pose huge threat to house sparrows and some other wildlife including other birds and bees.

The Ministry of Environment and Forests (MoEF) often faced several questions regarding the issue. As a consequence of a question raised on ‘Ill effects of mobile towers on birds’ in the parliament on 11th August in 2010, an “Expert Committee to Study the Possible Impacts of Communication Towers on Wildlife including Birds and Bees’ was set up by the ministry on 30th August last year. The committee studied all the peer reviewed articles and journals published on the impacts of radiations on wildlife throughout the world and compiled them. After acute analysis of the papers, the committee found out the impacts of electronic magnetic fields (EMF) on wildlife including birds and bees. On the impact of the house sparrows, the committee agreed in its very recent report that the population of house sparrows was found fast disappearing from areas contaminated with electromagnetic waves arising out of increased number of cell phones, in Bhopal, Nagpur, Ujjain, Jabalpur, Gwaliar, Chhindwara, Indore and Betul. It was also observed that when fifty eggs of house sparrows exposed to electromagnetic radiation (EMR) for duration of five minutes to thirty minutes, all the fifty embryos were found  damaged in a study conducted by the Centre for Environment and Vocational Studies of Punjab University. In its ‘Report on Possible Impacts of Communication on Wildlife including Birds and Bees’, the committee stated that London towers had witnessed a 75 per cent fall in house sparrow population since 1994, which coincided with the emergence of the cell phones. The EMR may be responsible, either by itself or by other means for the observed decline of sparrows in the European cities. Research in Spain proved that the microwaves released from these towers were harmful to house sparrows and the increase in the concentration of microwaves resulted into decrease in house sparrows’ population- the committee revealed in its report. Dr. Prabal Saikia, the principal scientist of Entomology and Principal Investigation of Network Project on Agricultural Ornithology has been scientifically studying the house sparrows in the districts of Lakhimpur, Dhemaji, Tinsukia, Dibrugarh, Sivasagar, Guwahati (urban) and some parts of Sonitpur district for last two years since 2009 and categorically told Eastern Chronicle that microwaves released by mobile towers were one of the prime causes behind the gradual decrease of house sparrows population. He told that even in its breeding season from March to August, he hardly found a herd of the sparrows over ten except in Guwahati, Janji, Dikhowmukh and some urban areas. Interestingly, he traced a large numbers of Eurasian Tree Sparrows in Dhemaji, Lakhimpur, Dibrugarh and Tinsukia which people oftenwrongly termed as house sparrows. He also stated that unscientific and uncontrolled increase of mobile phone towers were bringing down the population of sparrows. The emission of EMW from the towers harmed the thin skull of chicks and their egg shells.   Besides radiation of the towers he also blamed excessive use of pesticides in agricultural sector and gardens which reduced the soft-body insects by killing used as food for juveniles, unleaded petrol combustion, mushrooming of sparrow’s unfriendly architecture, destruction of grassland etc for the cause. The expert committee of the MoEF put forward several recommendations including to formulate new law to protect flora and fauna from the emerging threats of EMR and EMF from the communication towers.

Published in Eastern Chronicle in September, 2011

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