Environmentalist Vimlendu Jha on 10 January has warned that Joshimath is not the last town to witness the sinking tragedy and said that many Himalayan towns and villages will sink in the coming years.
Joshimath has been declared a land subsidence-hit area after huge cracks developed in houses, roads and the ground. The holy town is the gateway to famous pilgrimage sites, such as Badrinath and Hemkund Sahib.
“This is not the last Joshimath, resilience of Himalayas can’t be tested further, many Himalayan towns and villages will sink in coming years," he said.
Jha also said that experts had warned the government for over five decade to be sensitive of the Himalayan region and not draw map of Himalayas the same way as you do of Delhi or plains.
The environmentalist also said that the experts warned the government for over 5 decades. "Most shocking is that for over 5 decades, experts have warned the govt, to slow down, to not draw the map of Himalayas the same way as you do of Delhi or plains, be sensitive. But no one gave a damn, he said.
In a series of Tweets he wrote, “All the coverage on Joshimath will show you visuals of haphazard construction n tilted homes with cracks, n also build a narrative that it is the main reason for the disaster. That’s half the truth and a coverup exercise, to protect the main CULPRIT."
He added, “No doubt there is unplanned and haphazard construction in the region, and it does impose a ‘heavy’ load on the area, beyond the carrying capacity of the terrain. Ideally, any development and urbanization strategy should consider acceptable levels of risk."
He added that the main culprit of this disaster is development model pursued in Uttarakhand.
He wrote, “Main CULPRIT is the devt model pursued in Uttarakhand, in fact in entire Himalayan region, starting from Dharamshala to Arunachal, the large-scale infrastructure projects posing threat to fragile Himalayan ecosystem."
He said that, “There are more than 66 tunnels being constructed in various parts of Uttarakhand, and also the dams, that are shaking up the entire state for decades, despite ALL the EXPERTS warning against them. Nonstop digging and blasting underground has created a havoc."
Explaining the Char Dham road project is a disaster, he wrote, “With nonstop landslides, cutting down thousands of trees, changing the course of perennial and seasonal rivers and streams, damaging the aquifers, a complete mindless design, made for ‘FAST’ and ‘CONVENIENT’ mobility of tourists and armed forces."
He also said that National Thermal Power Corporation Limited (NTPC)'s Tapovan Vishnugad hydro project tunnel which passes under the Joshimath town is one of the main causes of sinking.
“Tapovan Vishnugad hydro project tunnel passes under the Joshimath town and many experts believe and rightly so, that it is one of the MAIN causes of Joshimath sinking, with boring and blasting underground, disturbing the water bearing strata and making the ground hollow." Earlier, other activists and locals had also claimed that the Tapovan Vishnugad hydel project, being built just 12 kilometres away from Joshimath is responsible for the disaster.
However, on 5 January, NTPC issued a statement saying that 'the tunnel being built by NTPC is not going under Joshimath city." The official statement further informed that no blasting has been done to construct the tunnel. “The tunnel built by NTPC does not pass under Joshimath town. This tunnel is dug by a tunnel boring machine (TBM) and no blasting is being carried out presently," the official statement read.
Apart from the NTPC project, giving another example of disaster, he said, is the govt sponsored rail project that will cross the Himalayas.
“Another govt sponsored disastrous project is the rail project that will cross the Himalayas, with 70% of the project goes through tunnels, construction in high seismic zone is a high risk and dangerous, causing more landslides, and also irreversible damage to ground water."
Jha said that this is not the last Joshimath, resilience of Himalayas can’t be tested further.
"Many Himalayan towns and villages will sink in coming years. Govt is the biggest violator, giving priority to economic interests, and awarding hydroelectric projects to private companies, he added.
He said that these anthropogenic activities have also increased the impact due to cloud bursts and other climate change triggered events.
“Increased anthropogenic activities like large scale road construction has led to landslides, and also increased the impact due to cloud bursts and other climate change triggered events," he said.
In his concluding statement, he said, “Grow for your need, not for your greed, or you shall SINK!"
Meanwhile, a total of 131 families have so far been shifted to the temporary relief centres, including 37 evacuated on Tuesday, while the number of damaged houses in the town has gone up to 723, according to a bulletin issued by the Disaster Management Authority.
There are 86 houses in the area demarcated as an unsafe zone.
The district administration has put red cross marks on the houses in the sinking town that are unsafe for living. Locals said vacating their houses and moving to other locations is not an easy option for them.
Recently, the Uttarakhand government directed Hindustan Construction Company (HCC) and NTPC to build 2,000 prefabricated houses, to be used as a shelter for families migrating from Joshimath.
The administration has also distributed food kits and blankets to the affected families, as per their requirements along with the distribution of funds to procure essential household items.
There has been a demand from some quarters, including the opposition Congress, to declare the crisis a national disaster. The Supreme Court on Tuesday listed for hearing on January 16 a plea seeking its intervention to declare the crisis in Joshimath a national disaster.
Refusing an urgent hearing, the court said there are "democratically-elected institutions" to deal with the situation and all important matters should not come to it.
(With inputs from agencies)
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