With Joshimath sinking, families relocate, projects stalled amid widespread protests : The Tribune India

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With Joshimath sinking, families relocate, projects stalled amid widespread protests

The bottom line is that Joshimath, or for that matter the entire Uttarakhand region, is geologically sensitive



Tribune Web Desk

Vibha Sharma

Chandigarh, January 6

As several families were forced to relocate after cracks reportedly developed in as many as 561 houses due to land subsidence and high-profile government projects came to a screeching halt amid widespread protests, it is time to look back at the genesis of the problem in Joshimath, now also being called the “sinking town”.

Cracks at a house in Joshimath of Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. PTI Photo

Homestay owners and businesses in Joshimath—the gateway to destinations like Badrinath, Auli, the Valley of Flowers and the Hemkunt Sahib—and are also staring at an uncertain future as bookings are being cancelled, according to reports.

About Joshimath

Joshimath, or Jyotirmath as it is also known, is located in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand.

As gateway to several important climbing expeditions, trekking trails and pilgrimages in the Himalayas, it has a booming economy based on that.

Located close to the Indo-Tibetan Border, Joshimath also has a strategic significance. The Joshimath Cantonment is the permanent station of the Garhwal Scouts.

Now it has a new calling card — the “sinking town”.

Last couple of days saw anxious residents evacuating homes following incidents of land subsidence. They also blocked the Badrinath National Highway to bring the issue to the notice of the government and the administration.

The issue

The subsidence of land there is not a new issue, according to experts.

Joshimath is located on an east-west running ridge to the south-west of Vishnuprayag—the confluence of Dhauliganga and Alaknanda rivers.

Gneissic rocks are highly weathered with low cohesive value, geologists say. Also, Chamoli falls in zone V of the seismic zonation map and is particularly vulnerable to landslides.

The bottom line is that Joshimath, or for that matter the entire Uttarakhand region, is geologically sensitive.

There were incidents of land subsidence in Joshimath in the 1970s as well after which the state government appointed the Mahesh Chandra Mishra committee, which said that major construction works should not be carried out in Joshimath as well as the Niti and Mana valleys as these areas are situated on moraines—places where debris accumulate after a glacier melts.

But with time the situation became worse, resulting in cracks in homes and some say also an increase in seismic activities.

In 2022, the state government had also set up a multi-institutional team to carry on geological and geotechnical survey, ascertain causes of subsidence and suggest remedial measures.

Though residents claim that cracks started appearing around October 2021, the government did not pay heed until the situation got out of hand, when muddy water started seeping from the ground due to under-construction tunnel uphill.

Experts say haphazard construction on fragile mountain terrains caused erosion of topsoil, and local streams changing their course. Unplanned developmental activities and absence of the assessment of the carrying capacity of the ground and ongoing developmental works added, adversely affecting ecologically fragile and tectonically active region.

While many blame wide-scale development activities like the all-weather Char Dham road and the NTPC 520 MW Tapovan-Vishnugad hydel project for “shaking the base” of Joshimath, experts say one also cannot overlook local development activities due to increasing economic activities in the region.

Action for now

For now the widening of the Char Dham road between Helang and Marwari and the construction works under the NTPC project have been suspended.

The Joshimath-Auli ropeway project has also been stopped “until further orders” along with all types of construction activities within the municipal area by the district administration.

An expert team of disaster management is taking stock of the situation. The team has held meetings and visited sites facing land subsidence.

They will visit all affected areas this week, and meet local residents and decide immediate and long-term measures.

Meanwhile, experts say the extent to which the NTPC and Helang bypass are responsible should also be investigated.

About The Author

The Tribune Web Desk brings you the latest news, analysis and insights from the region, India and around the world. Follow the Tribune Wed Desk for not just breaking news stories but wide-ranging coverage of events.

#Gurdwara Hemkund Sahib #Joshimath #Uttarakhand


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