Joshimath: The Tale of Sinking TownOn April 16, 2023 by Anushka Thapliyal
“Joshimath the town that serves as Lord Badrinath’s winter residence is sinking” Was the headline of every prime-time news a few months ago. But why is it sinking? Joshimath is a beautiful town located at an altitude of 1,800 metres in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand.
It has a population of around 23,000 people. The Badrinath temple devoted to Lord Vishnu the creator of the world according to Hindu Shastra resides only 45 km away from this place. The site is also important for pilgrimage. It’s also close to the popular skiing spot – Auli, which is being promoted as an international skiing destination by the Government of India.
On the security and international front its close to the Indo-China border and is hence the base of the Indian Army. even it’s a connecting pass for the strategic road that goes to the Indo-Tibetian border. As the location is very important when it comes to tourism, the town saw rapid construction in past years.
It is said that the city of Joshimath is not older than 100 years and is made of rocks that drifted due to earthquakes and landslides. Because of this land was considered unsuitable for construction, especially for wide roads and dams. The point to be noted is that any big infrastructural project especially dams and highways requires the use of explosives and drilling that weaken the slopes.
According to the Seismic Zonation Map of India – “Joshimath falls in zone 5 and there is no proper system for drainage and waste disposal making it more vulnerable to landslides and earthquakes.”
In October 2021, the people of Gandhinagar and Sunil Ward of Joshimath reported cracks in their houses. In 2022, cracks also appeared in the Ravigram ward of Joshimath. In September 2022, Uttarakhand State Disaster Management Authority published a report in which they claimed, “the crisis in Joshimath is the result of ill-planned construction”.
According to reports thousands of people are becoming homeless and more than 80 families have been dislocated. The Centre has deployed personnel of the National Disaster Response Force and State Disaster Response Force for the relief and rescue efforts.
But the real question is who is the real culprit behind this? According to the statement of Swami Avimukteshwaranand Saraswati who filed the PIL in the Supreme Court seeking compensation for citizens in land subsidence crises said, “No development is needed at the cost of human life and their ecosystem and if any such thing is to happen, then the State and Union Government must stop the same immediately. Meanwhile, the media puts all blame on the people for constructing their houses on such a land.
Though natural disaster is not in the hands of human beings the causes of it are indeed man lead to development. And climate change. According to a report it has been estimated that in Uttrakhand the average temperature will increase by 2 degree Celsius.
This will lead to the melting of Himalayan glaciers and increase the chances of flash floods and landslides like that of the 2013 and 2021 floods in Uttarakhand that led to the loss of many lives. That will also lead to changes in crop session that will further affect the life of farmers. In the case of Joshimath climate change is an indirect cause.
The main cause for the sinking of the town is associated with Tapovan Vishnugad Hydropower Project, a hydroelectric project whose construction started in 2006. A tunnel was dug out for this project that goes right under the land of Joshimath. Geologists M.P.S Bisht and Piyoosh Rautela published a research paper in 2010 in which they mentioned the lingering threat on Joshimath because of this hydropower project.
The paper reads,” A tunnel boring machine was employed for excavating the head race tunnel. On 24th December 2009 it punctured a water-bearing stratum some 3km inward the left bank of Alaknanda near Shillong village.” The site was somewhere near Auli according to the project authority.
The paper also claimed that it led to water discharge, “The aquifer discharge was about 60-70 million litres daily, enough to sustain 2-3 million people.” However, due to a lack of evidence, National Thermal Power Corporation Limited which is associated with the project denied the claim.
Another underlining cause is claimed to be the Helong-Marwari Bypass which is part of the Char Dham Project, currently under construction. The current central government of India asked for approval twice but was denied by Supreme Court.
Geologist Navin Juyal who has SC appointed High Power Committee member reviewed the Char Dham Project and suggested that the road must not be built until and unless a geotechnical feasibility study is done. But the warning was ignored.
Joshimath land subsidence is a significant example of the problem of sustainable development. The crisis was identified 50 years ago in the year 1976 by MC Mishra Committee which published a report stating, “Restriction on heavy construction activities, blasting or excavating to remove rocks for roads repair and other works and tree cutting were among the committee’s recommendation”.
In 2006, the Wadia Institute Of Himalayan Geology (WIHG) reported that drainage needs to be fixed or it may lead to the collapse of the town. In 2013, SC appointed committee stated that hydro-power plants in Uttarakhand are a significant hazard. Despite all these things, these were being promoted.
Renewable energy is a significant step towards sustainable development and a pollution-free environment but before starting with such projects scientific studies must be done to check if the step is in a positive direction.
Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti- a group that is protesting against NTPC-led hydro-power plants since 2004. But even after so many careless and ignorant decisions. The PIL was not heard by the supreme court. Land subsidence is a non-reversible phenomenon and the damage that has already happened can not be amended.
Now the question is what are the authorities waiting for, another crisis like Joshimath? The Joshimath crisis is not just an environmental crisis but it’s a warning sign. The question here is how big of a price are we willing to give for development.
Till what time authorities and government will remain blind to such matters that should be addressed at the earliest?
Joshimath is no longer just a tale of a sinking town but now it’s about the life, family, house, livelihood and rights of people. It’s time mankind should take a lesson from the crisis of Joshimath so that no more families become homeless.
● https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/explained-joshimath-crisis-a -brief-history-of-Indias-seismic-zone-maps/article66396495.ece
● https://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-10451-national-disaster -management-authority-joshimath-disaster.html
● https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/india/sc-refuses-to-enterta in-plea-for-declaring-joshimath-subsidence-a-national-disaster/articles how/97027380.cms
● https://indianexpress.com/article/india/joshimath-land-subsidence-sup reme-court-national-disaster-8384969/
● https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/dehradun/why-gateway-to-bad Srinath-is-sinking-under-its-own-weight/article show/96751040.cms ● https://www.indiatoday.in/news-analysis/story/how-heavy-unplanned-c construction-complex-geology-sinking-joshimath-uttarakhand-2319530- 2023-01-10
● https://indianexpress.com/article/india/joshimath-sinking-land-subside once-uttarakhand-January-9-developments-8370557/
● https://scroll.in/article/995283/climate-change-is-already-forcing-farme rs-in-uttarakhand-to-migrate
● https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2023/jan/13/joshimath-sinki ng-NTPC-says-tunnel-one-km-away-from-town-11-km-below-ground-25 37546.html
● https://theprint.in/judiciary/modi-govt-wants-to-push-ahead-with-char -dham-bypass-why-sc-appointed-panels-concerned/1276386/
● https://www.newindianexpress.com/nation/2020/jul/21/char-dham-pari yojana-hpc-report-says-socio-cultural-concern-innovative-thought-largely-missing-2172741.html
Image credits –
● https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.moneyco control.com%2Fnews%2Ftrends%2Fcurrent-affairs-trends%2Fjoshimath-i s-sinking-photos-videos-show-damage-and-devastation-of-the-tourist-town-9832791.html&psig=AOvVaw3JCn_bLZ2pmztBdK8NIBN0&ust=168 1592682180000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CBMQjhxqFwoTCICWqo ajqv4CFQAAAAAdAAAAABAE
● https://www.google.com/url?sa=i&url=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.indiatvne ws.com%2Fnews%2Findia%2Fjoshimath-sinking-locals-protest-against slow-pace-of-efforts-to-save-town-latest-updates-land-subsidence-2023 -01-27-842780&psig=AOvVaw3JCn_bLZ2pmztBdK8NIBN0&ust=1681592 682180000&source=images&cd=vfe&ved=0CBMQjhxqFwoTCICWqoajqv 4CFQAAAAAdAAAAABAJ
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