NEWS Preserving geological heritage is as important as safeguarding biodiversity and cultural heritage.
- Like social diversity, India’s geodiversity, i.e. the geological and physical elements of nature, is unique.
- 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.
- Broken loose from a supercontinent 150 million years ago, the Indian landmass, with all its strange-looking plants and animals, drifted northwards all by itself for 100 million years until it settled under the southern margin of the Asian continent.
- It got intertwined with the world’s youngest plate boundary.
- The geological features and landscapes that evolved over billions of years through numerous cycles of tectonic and climate upheavals are recorded in India’s rock formations and terrains, and are part of the country’s heritage.
- 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 storehouse of Cretaceous (60 million years ago) marine fossils.
- India offers plenty of such sites to learn more about environmental history.
SIGNIFICANCE OF GEOLOGICAL PAST
- As the climate of the future is uncertain, decision-making is difficult. Hence, learning from the geological past, may serve as an analogue for future climate.
- The awareness accrued through educational activities in geo-heritage parks will make it easy to memorialise past events of climate change and appreciate the adaptive measures to be followed for survival.
GLOBAL EFFORTS TOWARDS CONSERVATION OF GEOGRAPHICAL HERITAGE
- The importance of the shared geological heritage of our planet was first recognised in 1991 at an UNESCO-sponsored event, ‘First International Symposium on the Conservation of our Geological Heritage’.
- In the late 1990s, the Digne resolution, UNESCO facilitated efforts to create a formal programme promoting a global network of geoheritage sites.
- These were intended to complement the World Heritage Convention and the UNESCO Man and the Biosphere programme.
- UNESCO provided guidelines for developing national geo-parks so that they become part of the Global Geoparks Network. Today, there are 169 Global Geoparks across 44 countries.
- India is a signatory to the establishment of UNESCO Global Geoparks.
CONCERNS FOR INDIA
Lack of geographic Literacy in India:
- Despite offering plenty of geographical sites to learn more about environmental history, India’s legacy in the field of environmental history is abysmal.
- This low record of India can be attributed to Indian classrooms which view disciplines like environmental science and geology with disdain compared to other ‘pure’ subjects like physics, biology, and chemistry.
- Geo-heritage sites are educational spaces where people need geological literacy.
- But there is lack of interest in the government and academic circles towards geological literacy, which is unfortunate at a time when we face a crisis like global warming.
Lack of legislation on conservation:
- Countries like Vietnam and Thailand have implemented laws to conserve their geological and natural heritage, but India does not have any such legislation and policy for conservation.
- There is not a single geo-park in India which is recognised by UNESCO.
Destruction in the name of development:
- Despite international progress in this field, the concept of geo-conservation has not found much traction in India.
- Many fossil-bearing sites have been destroyed in the name of development.Such reckless development will soon overwhelm almost all our sites of geo-heritage.
- 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.
Apathy towards geo-conservation:
- In 2009, there was a half-hearted attempt to constitute a National Commission for Heritage Sites through a bill introduced in the Rajya Sabha. Later for some unstated reasons the government backtracked and the bill was withdrawn.
- In 2019, a group of geologists under the auspices of the Society of Earth Scientists petitioned the Prime Minister and the Ministries concerned about the need for a national conservation policy under the direct supervision of a national body committed to the protection of geo-heritage sites. But the government’s apathy continues.
- The government should come out with a national conservation policy backed by suitable geo-conservation legislation.
- Geo-conservation should be a major guiding factor in land-use planning.
- A progressive legal framework is needed to support such strategies.
- Thanks to unplanned and booming real estate, mining business, mining we are inching towards the disappearance of most of our geological heritage sites.
- This situation calls for immediate implementation of sustainable conservation measures such as those formulated for protecting biodiversity.
- Natural assets, once destroyed, can never be recreated. And if they are uprooted, they lose much of their scientific value.