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Why save the rocks of the Deccan Plateau?

Asteroid impact led to the formation of the Deccan Traps.

Asteroid impact led to the formation of the Deccan Traps.  

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As our Institute at Hyderabad started constructing a new building, we found a huge boulder on the site. Such boulders and rocks are common place in Hyderabad (and indeed in the Deccan region) and many builders have simply blasted them away to make room for buildings. As Hyderabad expanded during the last four decades, much of the landscape has been remarkably changed from a series of boulders to high-rise buildings.

This irreversible change in the landscape has bothered many, and the conservation group “Save the Rocks” at Hyderabad has canvassed against such thoughtless blasting of these natural gifts and for conserving them as much as possible. These have borne some fruit as some architects have come out with ingenious plans to build houses and complexes around the boulders, or making the boulders as part of the plan. We too decided to do so and made the boulder part of the ground floor of the new building, where it ushers visitors.

This is yet another example of the debate between ecology and environment on one hand and development and economic demands on the other, but with a different focus. Boulders of Deccan are not ‘green’, they play no role in agriculture, water or the livelihood of the people in any significant way. While we understand the role of other ecosystems such as mangroves, forests or animal sanctuaries, of what use are these stones and rocks?

The answer comes once we realize how these rocks and boulders came about in the first place. The work of geologists over the last couple of centuries has unveiled the scenario of the area, which show us that these rocks, boulders and steps (of the kind we see in the rocks in Mahabaleshwar or Ajanta area) are the result of the churning of the earth that went on as early as 65 million years ago. Those were the pre-human days when giant dinosaurs roamed the Indian landscape in Punjab, Rajasthan and Deccan. The remains of one such dinosaur that roamed in the Adilabad area have been put together and exhibited at the Birla Science Museum (which itself stands on such boulders) in Hyderabad. Looking at the actual bones of the dinosaurs lying there, one wonders what caused their extermination from the ‘Jurassic Park’ of India of 65 million years ago.

Geo-chronologists study such events and estimate their time periods. We have such experts at the National Geophysical Research Institute at Hyderabad, Physical Research Laboratory at Ahmedabad and IIT Bombay. One such, Professor Kanchan Pande of IIT Bombay, has been working on the geo-chronology of the Deccan, and has recently co-authored a paper in the journal Science, which gives us an insight to the scenario.

It was over 66 million years ago that a giant asteroid from space came and barged on earth. The impact was so huge that it led to catastrophic changes on earth. Giant series of earthquakes erupted and massive fires were ignited, wiping out most life forms, plant and animals on land and sea. Dark clouds of poisonous dust blocked sunlight, vitiating the atmosphere and climate. This catastrophic event changed the entire landscape and natural history of our earth.

The collaborative work of Professor Paul Renne of UC Berkeley, and Professor Pande on Indian geochronology shows that the effect of such an asteroid impact was not just a single bang, but a series of earthquakes churning out the Indian land mass, particularly in the Western and Central regions of India, an area almost the size of U. P. and M. P. put together. The impact was not just a ‘one-off’ event but a series of continuing re-adjustment of the layers of earth, which continues even today. The volcanoes that resulted and the lava that began flowing still continue. This is what led to the “steps” or staircase-like arrangement of the landscape in the Mumbai-Pune Ghats region. These regular formations as called the “Deccan Traps” (borrowing from the Swedish word ‘trapp’ for staircase). For some stunning views of the Deccan Trap, go to Google and ask for images.

Cynics may ask: what use is this barren land? For the people who live in the area, this is an irrelevant, indeed irreverent question. And for understanding the details of our own history, this is a natural gift. Save the Rocks Hyderabad fights a heroic battle and we wish them well and support.

Turning to the boulder in our building, we asked the world experts on geo-chronology based in Hyderabad, Drs. Kunchitapadam Gopalan and Kaigala Venkata Subba Rao. They tell us that this boulder is actually older than 65 million, perhaps close to 1 billion years old! In respect, we surrounded it with four walls and the artist Surya Prakash covered the walls with murals- as an ode to this priceless gift that Mother Earth has bestowed on us.

Poets retell the past and foretell the future. Saint Kabir wrote: The clay told the potter: “you are churning me today. There will come a day when I will be churning you”.



dbala@lvpei.org

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Printable version | Jul 16, 2018 12:47:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/sci-tech/science/why-save-the-rocks-of-the-deccan-plateau/article7855580.ece