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Bill aimed at protecting India’s geological heritage raises alarm

  • Published
    14th Feb, 2023
Context

A draft Bill (Geo-heritage Sites and Geo-relics (Preservation and Maintenance) Bill, 2022, ), aimed at protecting India’s geological heritage that includes fossils, sedimentary rocks, and natural structures, has raised alarm in India’s geo-sciences and palaeontology community.

About

What does the Bill entail?

  • The bill vests powers entirely in the Geological Survey of India (GSI), a 170-year-old organisation that comes under the Ministry of Mines.
  • The Geological Survey of India (GSI) has made a list of 32 geo heritage sites in the country, among them volcanogenic minerals in Andhra Pradesh and wood fossils in Tamil Nadu.
  • The proposed bill makes it possible for the Union government to declare a geological site as being of national importance, which would bring it within the ambit of the law.
    • Construction, reconstruction, and repair work of private property and buildings falling within the prohibited area are not allowed unless explicit permission from the director general of GSI is secured.
  • The bill also proposes to impose a penalty of up to five lakhs and/or a six-month jail term in case sites are destroyed, removed or defaced.

The First Attempt

  •  In 2009, the government came up with the ‘National Heritage Site Commission Bill’, acting on the insistence of geologists. 
  • For years, the bill was sent to various committees and ministries for consultation, before being dropped in 2016.

Concerns highlighted by Experts

  • Just placing these sites on a list hasn’t assured them protection.
  • The new proposed bill gives the Union government power to denotify geo heritage sites if it believes they have “ceased to be of national importance”, without public consultation.
  • According to experts, the GSI is not equipped to handle the task of geo heritage conservation, as it is primarily a research body that works on various missions.
  • The bill doesn’t make provisions for monuments in areas under the Panchayat (Extension to the Scheduled Areas) Act, 1996, which gives these regions special governance mechanisms and special rights over land.

What are Geo-heritage Sites?

  • Geo-heritage refers to the geological features which are inherently or culturally significant offering insight into earth’s evolution or history to earth science or that can be utilized for education.
  • The Geological Survey of India (GSI) is the parent body that is making efforts towards the identification and protection of geo-heritage sites/national geological monuments in the country.

Famous geological heritage sites in India

  • Volcanogenic bedded Barytes, Mangampeta, Kadapa, AP
  • Eparchaean Unconformity, Chittor Dist, AP
  • Natural Geological Arch, Tirumala Hills, Chittor Dist, AP
  • Laterite near Angadipuram PWD rest house premises, Malapuram Dist, Kerala
  • Fossil wood near Tiruvakkarai, South Arcot Dist, Tamil Nadu

Examples of India’s geo heritage 

  • Himalayas: The subcontinent’s collision with Eurasia over 50 million years ago, which birthed the Himalayas, is considered among the most significant geological phenomena in its history. 
  • Fossil reserves: India also has one of the largest dinosaur fossil reserves in the world, found in Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, as well as remnants of the oldest life forms, called stromatolites, in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh. 
  • Caves and Sculptures: Caves and natural rock sculptures — found across states — are also geo relics of value.



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