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Draft Geo-Heritage Sites and Geo-Relics Bill 2022

Context:

The draft Geo-heritage Sites and Geo-relics (Preservation and Maintenance) Bill, 2022, 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.

Relevance:

GS II: Polity and Governance

Dimensions of the Article:

  1. What are Geo-Heritage Sites and Geo-Relics in India?
  2. What does the Geo-heritage Sites and Geo-relics Bill say?
  3. Criticisms

What are Geo-Heritage Sites and Geo-Relics in India?

Geo-Heritage Sites and their Protection

  • Geological Survey of India (GSI) declares Geo-Heritage Sites/ National Geological Monuments for protection and maintenance
  • GSI or state governments take measures to protect these sites
  • GSI was established in 1851 to investigate and assess mineral resources of India

Definition of Geo-Heritage Sites and Geo-Relics

  • Geo-Heritage Sites defined as sites containing Geo-Relics and phenomena, stratigraphic type sections, geological structures and geomorphic landforms
    • Includes land adjoining the site required for conservation or site access
  • Geo-Relics defined as any relic or material of geological significance or interest like sediments, rocks, minerals, meteorite or fossils

Examples of Geo-Heritage Sites in India

  • 32 Geo-Heritage Sites spread across 13 states
  • Examples include Volcanogenic bedded Barytes of Mangampeta in Cuddapah district of Andhra Pradesh, Akal Fossil Wood Park in Jaisalmer, Rajasthan, and others.

What does the Geo-heritage Sites and Geo-relics Bill say?

  • The Geo-heritage Sites and Geo-relics Bill addresses the need for legislation to protect, preserve and maintain geo-heritage sites and geo-relics.
  • The Bill highlights that the absence of any such legislation in the country has led to the destruction of these sites due to natural decay, population pressure and changing social and economic conditions.
  • The Bill further notes that India’s fossil wealth, including dinosaur remains in Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, marine fossils in Kutch and Spiti, and stromatolites in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, are of great geoheritage and geotourism value.
  • The Bill also emphasizes the importance of protecting the world’s oldest metallurgical records of gold, lead, and zinc in Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh.

What does it say regarding preservation?

Declaration of Geoheritage Sites

  • The Bill would authorise the Central Government to declare a geoheritage site to be of national importance under the provisions of the  Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (RFCTLARR Act).
  • The government would spell out the areas to be acquired by it through a public notification in the Official Gazette.
  • Objections to the acquisition can be raised within two months.

Compensation for Loss or Damage

  • Provision is made for compensation to the owner or occupier of land who incurs loss or damage due to the exercise of any power under this Act.
  • The market value of any property will be ascertained in accordance with the principles set out in the RFCTLARR Act.

Prohibition on Construction and Utilisation

  • The Bill imposes a prohibition on construction, reconstruction, repair or renovation of any building within the geoheritage site area or utilisation of such area in any other manner.
  • Exceptions are construction for preservation and maintenance of geoheritage site or any public work essential to the public.

Penalties for Contravention

  • Penalties for destruction, removal, defacement or contravention of any direction issued by the Director General, GSI in the geo-heritage site are mentioned.
  • Imprisonment for up to six months or a fine of up to Rs.5 lakh, or both, can be imposed for contravention.
  • In the case of continuing contravention, an additional fine of up to Rs.50,000 for every day of continuing contravention may be imposed.

Criticisms

  • The need for preserving geo-heritage sites has been recognized for a long time.
  • However, there are concerns over the distribution of power mentioned in the Bill.
  • According to a Science article, Guntupalli V R Prasad, a paleontologist at the University of Delhi, has raised concerns about the sweeping powers given to GSI.
  • The GSI has the authority to acquire any material of geological significance, as well as sites of geological importance.
  • The issue of land acquisition for safeguarding these sites could lead to conflicts with local communities.

-Source: Indian Express


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