Protecting India’s natural laboratories

Synopsis: India needs to take measures to protect and conserve Geoheritage sites.

Introduction

India has a very unique geodiversity. India has tall mountains, deep valleys, sculpted landforms, long-winding coastlines, hot mineral springs, active volcanoes, diverse soil types, mineralised areas, and globally important fossil-bearing sites. It is long known as the world’s ‘natural laboratory’ for geo-scientific learning.

India’s geological features and landscapes evolved over billions of years through numerous cycles of tectonic and climate upheavals and are part of the country’s heritage.

However, the lack of interest in the government and our academic circles towards geological literacy is unfortunate at a time when we face a crisis like global warming.

Why Geoheritage sites are important and needs to be protected?

Geo-heritage sites are educational spaces. They commemorate unique geological features and landscapes and promote geo-tourism that generates revenue and employment and they are of great scientific value.

For example, the Kutch region in Gujarat has dinosaur fossils and is our version of a Jurassic Park. The Tiruchirappalli region of Tamil Nadu, originally a Mesozoic Ocean, is a store house of Cretaceous (60 million years ago) marine fossils.

Learning from the geological past, may serve as an analogue for future climate.

The awareness generated through educational activities in geo-heritage parks makes it easier for us to memorialise past events of climate change and appreciate the adaptive measures to be followed for survival.

What are the issues and challenges faced in conservation of Geo heritage sites in India?

Despite international progress in this field, the concept of geo-conservation has not found much traction in India.

Apathy towards geological literacy: Indian classrooms view disciplines like environmental science and geology with disdain compared to how they view other ‘pure’ subjects like physics, biology, and chemistry.

No policy for conservation: Countries like Vietnam and Thailand have also implemented laws to conserve their geological and natural heritage. Unfortunately, India does not have any such legislation and policy for conservation

Not a single geo-park in India which is recognised by the UNESCO: Though the Geological Survey of India (GSI) has identified 32 sites as National Geological Monuments. This is despite the fact that India is a signatory to the establishment of UNESCO Global Geoparks.

Must Read: Global measures to conserve Geo-heritage sites

How the issue of development is threatening geological heritage sites in India?

Many fossil-bearing sites have been destroyed in the name of development. We are inching towards the disappearance of most of our geological heritage sites due to unplanned and booming real estate business.

Unregulated stone mining activities have also contributed to this destruction.

For example, the high concentration of iridium in the geological section at Anjar, Kutch district, provides evidence for a massive meteoritic impact that caused the extinction of dinosaurs about 65 million years ago. This site was destroyed due to the laying of a new rail track in the area.

Similarly, a national geological monument exhibiting a unique rock called Nepheline Syenite in Ajmer district of Rajasthan was destroyed in a road-widening project.

The Lonar impact crater in Buldhana district of Maharashtra is an important geo-heritage site of international significance. It is under threat of destruction, although conservation work is now in progress under the High Court’s supervision.

What is the way forward?

First, the current situation calls for immediate implementation of sustainable conservation measures such as those formulated for protecting biodiversity.

Second, the protection of geo-heritage sites requires legislation. Geo-conservation should be a major guiding factor in land-use planning. A progressive legal framework is needed to support such strategies.

Source: This post is based on the article “Protecting India’s natural laboratories” published in “The Hindu” on 12th October 2021.

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