Helpless Joshimath : Living On The Edge

Picture : ANI

Surrounded by majestic mountains and a picturesque landscape, Joshimath, gateway to places like Badrinath and Auli, ironically, is reeling under the constant fear of sinking and probably even disappearing due to the cracks appearing in the homes of thousands of people. Worse, the cracks are only widening with time and unfortunately it’s the infrastructural development which is main culprit. Easy accessibility has further burdened the city of handling the tourists beyond it’s capacity since the state is home to a number of revered Hindu shrines that draw millions of pilgrims every year.

Residents of Joshimath, living in the ecologically fragile Himalayan region, had been raising the alarm for months, but the issue only got widespread media attention recently after the cracks began widening. The problem of subsidence goes back decades – in 1976, Mishra committee report had raised doubts about land sinking in Joshimath after residents complained of cracks in their houses. In its report, the panel had also warned against allowing heavy construction work in the area. Experts have blamed rampant construction damaging the ecological balance of the region vulnerable to earthquakes and landslides.

In yet another study by the Indian Institute of Remote Sensing it found that Joshimath and its surrounding areas have been sinking at the rate of 6.5 cm or 2.5 inch per year. The Dehradun-based institute has been using satellite data of the area, which sees a lot of tectonic activity and is very sensitive. The temple-town known to be ‘sinking’ for a while, reached a crisis this year as buildings and roads developed massive cracks. Another town 90 km downhill has also started developing cracks. The locals blame the nearby Tapovan project of the National Thermal Power Corporation or NTPC, saying it has aggravated the situation. Ever since the news of the sinking town has gained momentum, various government agencies have flung to action with dozens of families being evacuted to various safe places. The area has been declared “disaster-prone”. More than 600 houses have developed cracks due to gradual land subsidence, highlighting the ground slowly sinking. Several construction projects have been put on hold after thousands of protesters blocked a national highway.

Tourism too, is to be equally blamed for worsening the situation further. Since the town is a gateway to places like Badrinath, Hemkund Sahib, Auli and many others, the huge influx of tourists have forced more and more hotels come up in this small town which has endangered the very existence of the town.

Though governmental agencies and local bodies have recommended demolition of houses and hotels worse affected, question still remains, why we cannot stop medalling with nature? After all is it justified that in the name of development, people are forced to leave their homes, their surroundings for no fault of theirs!

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