- A draft Bill, aimed at protecting India’s geological heritage that includes fossils, sedimentary rocks, natural structures, has raised alarm in India’s geo-sciences and palaeontology community.
- The Draft Geo-heritage Sites and Geo-relics (Preservation and Maintenance) Bill, 2022, while deemed necessary by several researchers, vests powers entirely in the Geological Survey of India (GSI), a 170-year-old organisation that comes under the Ministry of Mines.
- Provisions of the Bill give it the power to declare sites as having ‘geo-heritage’ value, take possession of relics (fossils, rocks) that rest in private hands, prohibit construction 100 metres around such a site, penalise — with fines up to ₹5 lakh and possibly imprisonment — vandalism, defacement, and violations of directives of a site by the Director General of GSI.
- “We welcome a Geo-heritage Bill, however, rather than have all authority in the Director General, GSI, there needs to be a broader committee of experts from a wider range of institutions.
- This would mean that the interests and difficulties faced by researchers, who actually work in the field, are kept in mind
Geo-science calls for broad panel of experts
- In 2019, the Indian National Science Academy and a group called the Society of Earth Sciences had submitted a proposal to the government to establish a broad-based National Geoheritage Authority that would advise State governments on conservation, setting up geo-heritage parks, deciding on the geological importance of sites and administer the possession of fossils or other relics in these regions.
- on condition of anonymity, that the current version of the Bill was unlikely to be placed before the Union Cabinet, a pre-requisite for it to be brought to Parliament.
- Other than protecting places of geological interest, the need for a law that specifically protects sites of geo-heritage value follows from India being a signatory to the UNESCO Convention concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage, since 1972.
SOURCE: THE HINDU, THE ECONOMIC TIMES, PIB