For years, residents of the northern Indian town of Joshimath Uttarakhand have been complaining to local authorities that their homes are being flooded. Now, the authorities are forced to take action, evacuating almost 100s of families in the last week and speeding up the arrival of experts to determine the cause.
The cracks running through the city are now so wide that hundreds of houses are no longer habitable, and some fear India is losing an important gateway to religious pilgrimages and tourist missions on nearby mountain trails.
Located in the northeastern state of Uttarakhand, Joshimath is bordered by two rivers and nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, which environmental experts say makes it particularly vulnerable to earthquakes, landslides and erosion.
Uttarakhand CM says Joshimath crisis ‘natural disaster
Over the past 24 hours, Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Singh Dhami has said twice that the Joshimath land subsidence issue is a ‘natural disaster and not caused by anyone’. CM had to face harsh questions from Joshimath residents, who claimed that the land subsidence in the township was due to ‘unscientific’ development work, even as he claimed it is of a ‘natural disaster’.
Natural or man-made disaster?
Joshimath may sink, according to satellite photos of the city issued by the Indian Space Research Organization (ISRO) National Remote Sensing Center (NRSC) and a preliminary assessment on land subsidence. The Cartosat-2S satellite provided the images.
The NRSC, located near Hyderabad, has made available satellite photos of the sinking regions. The images show that the entire town, along with the Narasimha shrine and the Army heliport, has been designated as a sensitive area.
The report states that Joshimath sank 8.9 cm between April and November 2022, during which time the land subsided gradually. However, the intensity of the ground subsidence increased between December 27, 2022, and January 8, 2023, and the city sank 5.4 cm during these 12 days.
These factors, combined with uncontrolled human activity and growth, are believed to be responsible for Joshimath’s sinking. In addition, hydroelectric projects, including the Tapovan Vishnugad hydroelectric power station in the nearby Chamoli district, threaten the stability of the city.
Geological experts have repeatedly said that the subsidence in the city of Joshimath was apparently due to damage to groundwater strata while NTPC was digging a tunnel a few years ago and locals have attributed the increased activity to the use of heavy machinery. for the construction of Helang byPass as part of the Char Dham road project.
The Uttarakhand government expert panel in 2022 reportedly found that several pockets of Joshimath are ‘subsiding’ due to natural and man-made factors.
Why Joshimath sinking is a man-made disaster?
A panel of experts set up by the Uttarakhand government has reportedly found that several pockets of Joshimath are “subsiding” due to natural and man-made factors.
The panel found that subsidence, a gradual settling or sudden subsidence of the land surface due to the removal or displacement of subsurface materials, has induced structural defects and damage observed in almost all districts of Joshimath, according to the reports.
According to media reports, residents have also blamed NTPC’s Tapovan Vishnugad hydropower project for the incident. They allege that the tunnel leaked water ‘from a drilled aquifer, which caused the water sources in Joshimath to dry up.’ Experts point out that it could be one of the reasons for the collapse of the area.
The experts then ‘warned that this sudden and large-scale dehydration of the strata had the potential to initiate ground subsidence in the region,’ the report added.
The report of the committee of scientists constituted by the government has come regarding landslides and cracks in the houses of Joshimath. Many factors have been attributed in the report, including river erosion, drainage, and lack of systematic drainage of sewage, due to excessive construction.
This Tapovan tunnel was also identified as the cause of the landslide. It is an interesting fact that in the research paper published in the Science General by Dr Piyush Rautela and other geologists, Dr MPS Bisht, Chairman of the Committee of Scientists constituted by the Government and Chief Geological Scientist, Director of Disaster Management Department.
Construction caused several landslides
Too much construction has caused several large-scale landslides. Between 2009 and 2012, CSIR chief scientist Kanungo recorded 128 landslides in the Chamoli-Joshimath region. He published his findings in Landslides: Journal of the International Consortium on Landslides, in 2014.
In 2018, a report published in Current Science highlighted major landslides in the region. He was talking about the massive landslide on May 19, 2017, at Vishnuprayag, the confluence of the Dhauliganga and Alaknanda rivers, eight kilometres from Joshimath.