Modi govt’s proposed geoheritage bill protects sites capturing Earth’s history. What it means

The Print | Jan 05, 2023

Geoheritage Sites & Geo-relics (Preservation & Maintenance) Bill lets govt declare a site to be of national importance, with 100m area around it ‘prohibited’ & 200m area ‘restricted’.

New Delhi: India’s rich geological monuments that capture the Earth’s tumultuous, evolving history in the form of rocks, sediment, and fossils, are at the grave risk of being wiped out, experts have said, highlighting the need for a law to protect these from erosion.

The warning has not gone unheeded, with the Narendra Modi government putting out a draft bill last month, for the preservation and maintenance of India’s geological heritage sites and relics. The draft Geoheritage Sites and Geo-relics (Preservation and Maintenance) Bill, 2022, published for “public consultation” by the Ministry of Mines on 15 December, aims to protect and preserve these sites for “geological studies, education, research, and for future generations as it is a non-renewable asset”.

Examples of India’s geoheritage are everywhere, but not always well known. 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. 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 natural rock sculptures — found across states — are also geo relics of value.

“Landscapes are an archive. They are an archive of processes in the earth that form its history,” said Suvrat Kher, a sedimentary geologist. The biggest problem, he said, was that people aren’t inclined to see it that way.

Kher added: “Geology has never been a part of India’s public consciousness the way wildlife or forests have been. If you look at old colonial maps, everything without forest or tree cover was considered a wasteland, and that idea perpetuates today. The idea that landscapes have an intrinsic value is missing.”

The bill is an attempt to restore balance to an area of history that is often neglected, recognising that geoheritage sites deserve the same protection as biodiversity.