Geo-heritage Sites and Geo-relics Bill, 2022

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    In Context

    • Recently, the draft Geo-heritage Sites and Geo-relics (Preservation and Maintenance) Bill was notified by the Ministry of Mines.

    Geo-heritage Sites and Geo-relics

    • According to the Ministry of Mines, the Geological Survey of India (GSI) declares geo-heritage sites/national geological monuments for protection and maintenance
      • The GSI or the respective state governments take necessary measures to protect these sites.
      • The 32 geo-heritage sites spread across 13 states in India.
    • GSI:
      • Coming under the Ministry of Mines, the GSI was established in 1851 to investigate and assess coal and other mineral resources of the country through regional-level exploration.

    Issues with preservation and threats

    • Sites in India:
      • According to the draft, the fossil wealth of dinosaur remains of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, marine fossils of Kutch and Spiti, and oldest life forms viz. stromatolites of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh are of great geo heritage and geo-tourism value. 
      • The world’s oldest metallurgical records of gold, lead and zinc in Rajasthan and Andhra Pradesh are still preserved but are under great threat.
    • Absence of legislation:
      • The Bill states that despite identifying these sites, there are concerns over their preservation. 
      • Due to the absence of any legislation in the country for the protection, preservation and maintenance of the geo-heritage sites, these are increasingly threatened with destruction not only by the natural causes of decay but also by population pressure and changing social and economic conditions which are aggravating the situation.

    Draft bill highlights

    • Aim:
      • The Bill is aimed at providing for the declaration, preservation, protection and maintenance of geo-heritage sites and geo-relics of national importance, for geological studies, education, research and awareness purposes.
    • Definitions:
      • The draft bill defines Geoheritage sites as: 
        • Sites containing geo-relics and phenomena, stratigraphic type sections, geological structures and geomorphic landforms including caves, natural rock-sculptures of national and international interest; and includes such portion of land adjoining the site, that may be required for their conservation or to access to such sites.
      • A Geo-relic is defined as: 
        • Any relic or material of geological significance or interest like sediments, rocks, minerals, meteorites or fossils. 
        • The GSI will have the power to acquire geo-relics “for its preservation and maintenance”.
    • Role of Central Government:
      • The bill would authorise the Central Government to declare a geoheritage site to be of national importance. 
      • This would be under the provisions of the Right to Fair Compensation and Transparency in Land Acquisition, Rehabilitation and Resettlement Act, 2013 (RFCTLARR Act)
    • Raising objections:
      • Through a public notification in the Official Gazette, the government would spell out what areas were to be acquired by it, and objections to this can be raised within two months.
    • Compensation to the land owners:
      • Provision is made for compensation to the owner or occupier of land who incurs loss or damage from the land 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.
    • Prohibitions:
      • The Bill imposes a prohibition on construction, reconstruction, repair or renovation of any building within the geo-heritage site area or utilisation of such area in any other manner, except for construction for preservation and maintenance of the geo-heritage site or any public work essential to the public.
    • Penalties:
      • Penalties for destruction, removal, defacement or contravention of any direction issued by the Director General, GSI in the geo-heritage site are mentioned. 
      • There is a penalty of imprisonment which may extend to six months or a fine which may extend to Rs.5 lakh or both
      • In the case of a continuing contravention, an additional fine of up to Rs.50,000 for every day of continuing contravention may be imposed.

    Concerns & challenges

    • Issues of distribution of power:
      • The need for the preservation of such sites, and particular laws for them, has been felt for a long. 
      • But as a Science article points out, there are concerns over the distribution of power as mentioned in the Bill.
    • Issues with local communities:
      • GSI has the authority to acquire any material of geological significance, including sediments, rocks, minerals, meteorites, and fossils, as well as sites of geological importance. 
      • The issue of land acquisition for the purpose of safeguarding these sites could also lead to issues with local communities.
    • Need of more inclusive body:
      • Critics are demanding a more inclusive body, on the lines of a National Geoheritage Authority, that can, more democratically, decide on declaring sites as being of ‘geohistorical’ importance and how best to preserve artefacts and finds.

    Way ahead

    • Given the premium for land and India’s economic needs, there will be conflict over questions of preservation and livelihood, but any legislation must endeavour to balance these forces and enable consensus.

    Source: IE