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IIT prof ‘hyped’ cell radiation, daughter sold protective shields

Professor Kumar, who heads the Electrical Engineering department at the university, denies conflict of interest.

New Delhi |
Updated: February 25, 2014 9:07:07 am
Kumar, one of the 13 members of the committee, said he did not agree with the report and added that the committee was biased. Kumar, one of the 13 members of the committee, said he did not agree with the report and added that the committee was biased.

A committee set up by the department of telecommunications has raised a red flag over the ethical conduct of an IIT-Bombay professor for blowing out of proportion the effects of mobile phone tower radiation on humans and on the other hand promoting his family’s business of products that claim to reduce the impact of such radiation.

The professor, Girish Kumar, is at the electrical engineering department of the institute.

DoT constituted the committee, comprising experts from scientific, medical and research organisations, following a January 10, 2012 directive by the Lucknow bench of the Allahabad High Court. The court was hearing a writ petition on issues related to electro-magnetic field (EMF) radiations.

Kumar, one of the 13 members of the committee, said he did not agree with the report and added that the committee was biased.

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“The committee observed that his daughter, Neha Kumar, is selling radiation shielding solutions through her company NESA Radiation Solutions Private Ltd. On one hand, he is spreading misinformation and creating misconceptions and unfounded apprehensions in the mind of the public by sensationalising and blowing out of proportion the effects of EMF radiation, and on the other hand, he is promoting his family’s business in related products (which do not even follow any national or international standards), thus throwing professional ethics to the winds,” the report said.

Kumar has been fighting for safer norms and a reduction in the power transmitted by cellphone tower antennae for over five years now. Citizens’ groups in South Mumbai and prominent residents such as Prakash Munshi and actor Juhi Chawla have quoted findings from his report which claimed the short-term and long-term affects of radiation included memory loss, sleep disruption, headache, depression, irritability, poor concentration, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, DNA damage, irreversible infertility and prostate cancer.

The report said that as part of professional ethics, professionals made disclosures about their commercial or business interest or the commercial or business interest of close relatives and family members before publishing any report or newsletter.

Kumar, chairman of Wilcom Technologies Private Ltd, which offers radiation shield as one of its products, also publishes a bi-monthly newsletter titled ‘Cellphone/Tower Radiation Hazards and Solutions’.

“The committee noticed that Prof (Girish Kumar) has not made any such disclosure about the studies being conducted by him or reports submitted by him on the newsletter being published by him on the issue of health effects from EMF radiation. Though initially Prof Kumar had agreed to submit a proper disclosure on his work related to EMF radiation, but he later refused to give any such disclosure. However, he has stated that the information given in his newsletter be considered as his disclosure,” the report said. 

The report said the other members of the committee were of the view that the information was unclear and incomplete. It said Kumar should have categorically disclosed his family’s commercial interest in companies involved in manufacturing or dealing with EMF shielding products. Members of the committee include professors from IIT-Kharagpur, IIT-Kanpur, IIT-Delhi, IIT-Roorkee and experts from ICMR, AIIMS, department of science and technology and Indian Institute of Toxicology Research, besides representatives from DoT.

“I have always maintained that removing towers is not the solution, unless one is willing to live without mobile phones,” Kumar told The Indian Express when reached for comment.

“My presentation at every forum suggests three solutions to reduce EMF hazard, if there is a cell tower near your residence/office. The first solution talks of convincing operators to reduce transmitted power and the second is on removal of the tower. The third option is given as shielding solutions.

If my first suggestion on reducing the power transmitted is implemented, there will be no need to have shielding solutions in the first place and then the company too will have to close down. So then where is the conflict of interest? Even in my emails to the committee, which included my newsletter, I had mentioned that my daughter has a company on shielding solutions.”

In the report, the committee said Kumar had circulated an email to all members, which casts aspersions and ascribes bias against them, which was strongly objected to by the members.

Most members, the report noted, were of the view that it amounted to undermining the premier institutions and disagreed with the professor’s “prejudiced stance” at the very outset.

“Kumar refused to attend and participate in the meetings of the committee, despite pursuance by the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and did not attend the first meeting…The committee members have taken due note of emails dated January 14 and 15, 2014, sent by Kumar to them, where there is an attempt by Kumar to involve the judges of the high court, Allahabad, into the discussions even before finalisation of the report. All other members disassociate themselves from such activities of Kumar,” it said.

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