Before Joshimath crisis, govt ignored two similar tragedies in adjoining areas

  • In October 2021, cracks developed in around 14-15 houses at Joshimath's Chhawani Bazaar and Gandhinagar area
  • Roughly ten years ago Chaien/Chai village, located around 10 km distance from Joshimath was sunk due to a tunnel

Mansi Jaswal
Published17 Jan 2023, 11:50 AM IST
Joshimath: A worker looks at cracks that appeared in a PWD Guest House, in land subsidence affected area in Joshimath
Joshimath: A worker looks at cracks that appeared in a PWD Guest House, in land subsidence affected area in Joshimath(PTI)

Uttarakhand's Joshimath is reeling from an unprecedented crisis that has rendered thousands of people homeless. Of approximately 25,000 of the population, around 800 are cooped up in camps or lodges while others have left the town after their homes developed yawning cracks in the past few weeks. The number of buildings developing cracks rose to 849 on 16 January, out of which 165 are located in the danger zone.

Abhishek Shah, who runs a three-room lodge in the hilly town said, "Agar sarkar humko rehne ki jagah de bhi deti hai, wo humara rozgar kaha se layegi (Even if the government re-settles us to a new home, what will happen to our sources of income. My lodge is in danger due to two hotel buildings that have developed cracks--Snow Crest and Comet".

The two hotels have tilted dangerously towards each other and have been vacated as a precautionary measure. "The gap between the two hotels was around four feet earlier, but now it has narrowed to just a few inches with their roofs nearly touching each other," Puja Prajapati, daughter of Snow Crest owner, said.

The current ordeal that the people of Joshimath are facing may be an unanticipated one, but the warnings by the geologists, researchers, environmentalists, and activists about the fragile topography of the town have been flagged relentlessly.

In October 2021, cracks developed in around 14-15 houses at Joshimath's Chhawani Bazaar and Gandhinagar area. Kamal Rataouri, spokesperson of Joshimath Bachao Sangarsh Samiti (JBSS) told Mint, "The initial land subsidence happened at Chhawani Bazaar and Gandhinagar area around October and November 2021. We staged a protest in the town on 16 December, but I am deeply saddened that the government wasted 14 months to take this issue seriously. Had something been done at that time, we would have saved Joshimath today". Further, Rataouri advised the administration to deploy psychiatrists in the town as the people are reeling from depression and trauma due to massive financial losses.

Ramdan Prasad Dimri, Hindu priest at Narsingh temple informed Mint that roughly ten years ago Chaien/Chai village, located around 10 km distance from Joshimath was sunk due to a tunnel. Atul Sati, the convener of the JBSS, said that there's a powerhouse project present in Chaien village and several activists had opposed the then government, but all efforts went in vain. JBSS has been protesting against hydroelectric projects and road infrastructures that are detrimental to Joshimath.

In 1976, MC Mishra, then Gharwal commissioner in (erstwhile) Uttar Pradesh surveyed Joshimath to understand the cause of the landslide. In the "famous" Mishra Committee report, it was mentioned, "Joshimath is a deposit of sand and stone - it is not the main rock - hence it was not suitable for a township. Vibrations produced by blasting, heavy traffic, etc., will lead to a disequilibrium in natural factors…".

Despite that report, construction of 52 hydropower stations exist or are under construction in the Chamoli district. There are around 23 Hydel projects in the Alaknanda basin including Nandprayag Langasu, Lata Tapovan, Devsari Dam, Vishnugad, Pipalkoti, etc. In addition to these, more HEPs have been planned and are under construction like Kaliganga, Singoli, Bhatwari, etc. The 6-km Helang-Marwari bypass is also being built in Joshimath by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO). The bypass is part of the 825-km Char Dham highway expansion project in Uttarakhand.

NTPC began the construction of the 520 MW Tapovan Vishnugad project in November 2006, and JayPee Group's 400 MW Vishnuprayag Hydro-electric Project was commissioned in October 2006. After the 2013 Kedarnath flood, Ravi Chopra, director of the People’s Science Institute, also warned that a glacial retreat in the state, coupled with structures built for hydroelectricity generation and dams, could lead to large-scale disasters downstream.

Similarly, after the 2021 Raini village tragedy, the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) prepared a report in 2022. It mentioned, "Eight major glacier systems exist under Nanda Devi mountain systems. There is a total of 16 river basin systems in the Chamoli district, Uttarakhand. The study area has fragile geo-tectonic orogeny and comes under an eco-sensitive glacial system of Nanda Devi. Owing to its proximity to Main Central Thrust (MCT) which is the most active seismic zone and vulnerable to different kinds of hazards".

Highlighting the negligence of the government, Atul Sati said, "Dharchula, Munsyari, Champawat, Uttarkashi, Karnaprayag, Pithoragarh and Nainital have become dangerous, and it will affect a lot of villages within a decade," He added that locals have expressed fear regarding Rishikesh-Karnprayag rail link project. "Due to the All-Weather Road project, several villages have become vulnerable and the landslide zone has increased to 142 in the state since the road project," Sati said.

Congress chief spokesperson Garima Mehra Dasauni said, "Politicians have to think about the existence of the whole state. Joshimath should be taken seriously as a case study. There's a famous saying that a stitch in time saves nine, therefore all the parties should come together as far as the sustenance and existence of Uttarakhand are concerned. The ruling party must decide on plastic use, drainage, etc to protect other endangered towns."

Architect Rajdeep Singh Jaswal, founder of Archiverse firm, who has designed buildings in several hilly regions of Uttarakhand briefly explained to Mint about basic norms while making a building. He said that, "a soil test plays a significant role before designing a building because it examines the carrying capacity of the land. Adhering nine-meter height restrictions norm is another key factor. Besides, in hills, most of the buildings are on gradient slopes and irregular lands which often challenge building by-laws, and something should be done about this".

Meanwhile, a team from Central Building Research Institute (CBRI), Roorkee on Saturday (14 January) started a door-to-door survey of houses in the Joshimath. The officials have installed a gauge meter at houses where severe cracks have been reported. The gauge meter is placed above the cracks after setting it at zero and will be monitored again in a few days. A team of 40 engineers is scheduled to inspect 4,000 houses in nine wards in Joshimath for 10 days. The CBRI will submit its report to the Uttarakhand government by 25 January.

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First Published:17 Jan 2023, 11:50 AM IST
HomeNewsIndiaBefore Joshimath crisis, govt ignored two similar tragedies in adjoining areas

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