New Delhi, January 8
Land subsidence in Joshimath is primarily due to the National Thermal Power Corporation’s Tapovan Vishnugad Hydro Power Project and is a very grave reminder that people are messing up with the environment to an extent that is irreversible, experts said on Sunday.
They said rampant infrastructure development without a plan is making the fragile Himalayan ecosystem even more vulnerable to the effects of climate change which acts as a force-multiplier.
Cracks have appeared in hundreds of houses of Joshimath, the gateway to some renowned pilgrimage sites like Badrinath and Hemkund Sahib.
Chamoli District Magistrate (DM) Himanshu Khurana on Sunday told PTI that Joshimath has been declared a landslide-subsidence zone and over 60 families living in uninhabitable houses have been moved to temporary relief centres.
Considering the extent of the damage, at least 90 more families will have to be evacuated as soon as possible, Kumar, who heads a committee tasked with monitoring the situation on the ground level, said.
There are a total of 4,500 buildings in Joshimath and 610 of these have developed huge cracks, making them unfit for habitation, he said.
Incidents of land subsidence in Joshimath were reported in the 1970s too. A panel set up under the chairmanship of Garhwal Commissioner Mahesh Chandra Mishra had submitted a report in 1978, saying major construction works should not be carried out in the city and the Niti and Mana valleys as these areas are situated on moraines—a mass of rocks, sediment, and soil transported and deposited by a glacier.
“Joshimath is a very grave reminder that we are messing up with our environment to an extent that is irreversible,” Anjal Prakash, one of authors of the latest report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, said, attributing the Joshimath caving incident to the hydropower project.
“There are two aspects to the Joshimath problem. The first is rampant infrastructure development which is happening in a very fragile ecosystem like Himalayas and this is happening without much of a planning process in a way where we are able to protect the environment.
“Secondly, climate change is a force-multiplier. The way climate change is manifesting in some of the hilly states of India is unprecedented. For example, 2021 and 2022 have been years of disaster for Uttarakhand.
“There have been numerous climate risk events recorded like high rainfall events triggering landslides. We have to first understand that these areas are very fragile and small changes or disturbances in the ecosystem will lead to grave disasters, which is what we are witnessing in Joshimath,” Prakash said.
The climate scientist said two reports of the IPCC, published in 2019 and 2022, have critically observed that “this (Himalayan) region is very prone to disasters”.
“A very strong planning process must follow. In fact, the entire planning should be done at the bio-regional scale that should include what is allowed and what is not and has to be very stringent. We must look out for other ways for energy generation. The return investment cost in hydropower projects is very less when compared to the cost associated with environmental and ecological damage. Joshimath is a clear example of what one should not do in the Himalayas,” he said.
Prof Y P Sundriyal, Head of Department, Geology, HNB Garhwal University, said: “The government has not learnt anything from the 2013 Kedarnath floods and the 2021 Rishi Ganga flash flooding. The Himalayas is a very fragile ecosystem. Most parts of the Uttarakhand are either located in seismic zone V or IV which are prone to earthquakes.
“Climate change is further worsening the matter, with more extreme weather events. We need to have the formation of some strong rules and regulations and moreover forced and timely implementation of these rules. We are not against development but not at the cost of disasters,” Sundriyal said.
According to the book ‘Central Himalaya’ by Heim, Arnold & August Gansser, Joshimath is situated on the debris of a landslide. Few houses had reported cracks in 1971, following which a report had suggested some measures—conservation of the existing trees and plantation of more trees and that boulders on which the town is located should not be touched. However, these measures were never followed, he said.
“The ongoing crisis in Joshimath is primarily because of anthropogenic activities. The population has increased manifold and so has the tourist landfall. The infrastructure development has been going on unchecked. The construction of the tunnels for hydropower projects is being done through blasting, creating local earthquake tremors, shaking debris above the rocks, leading to the cracks,” Sundriyal said.
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