Govt projects halted as Joshimath stir escalates
A government survey found that 561 houses have developed cracks – a problem that appears to spread across the town where the ground has shown signs of shifting, officials said
The Uttarakhand government on Thursday halted construction works in and around Joshimath, including projects by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO) and the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), as protests intensified in Joshimath over land subsidence that has caused cracks in at least 500 homes, threatening to bring them down.
Residents of Joshimath took out a procession late on Wednesday and blocked the Badrinath Highway on Thursday morning in an effort to get the administration to do more, hours before chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami’s office said he will hold a high-level meeting on the issue on Friday.
A government survey found that 561 houses have developed cracks – a problem that appears to spread across the town where the ground has shown signs of shifting, officials said. “At present, 561 houses have developed cracks and accordingly we have made arrangements for temporary shelters by earmarking over 70 rooms including 7 halls and one auditorium with a capacity of 385 persons for providing temporary shelter. A team from the disaster management authority has reached each ward to assess any further damage by keeping a close watch on the situation, said Chamoli district magistrate (DM) Himanshu Khurana.
Later, officials said ban on construction work was ordered in and around the town, including on the BRO’s Helang Bypass and on the NTPC’s Tapovan Vishnugad Hydroelectric Project till further orders.
Khurana said a special team has been rushed to study the situation. “A survey team consisting of secretary disaster management along with several other geological experts is reaching the town to ascertain the causes of the escalation in the land sinking and water seepage activity in Joshimath town on Thursday evening,” he said.
Nestled in the Himalayas at an altitude of 6,150 feet with a population of 20,000, Joshimath is now sinking, its residents say. The reasons for this subsidence, experts told HT last week, is not new: haphazard construction on fragile mountain terrains that have loose rock, the seepage of water subsurface, an erosion of topsoil, and local streams changing their course because of man-made factors that block their natural flow.
Shailendra Panwar, president of Municipal board of Joshimath, said: “The cracks have widened in more than 560 houses after the seeping of the water which many believe is from the Tunnel constructed by power generation company and four to five families residing in JP Colony have left their houses and shifted to a safer place”.
Deepa Devi, a member of Joshimath municipal board ward number 1, said: “The land is subsiding in my ward for the past one year and the sinking activity has increased due to the blasting done for the construction of the road resulting in widening of the cracks in the houses.”
Madvi Sati, 56, a resident of Manohar Bagh in Joshimath, said she is terrified since the house she built with her life savings has developed new cracks and that her family now spends the night out in the open by lighting firewood. “The situation is getting grim as the cracks are widening on a daily basis in Joshimath and sinking has spread across a wide area affecting nearly every municipal ward of the town,” she said.
Joshimath is geologically sensitive, situated on an east-west running ridge to the south-west of Vishnuprayag, the confluence of the Dhauliganga and Alaknanda rivers. The gneissic rocks in Joshimath are highly weathered with low cohesive value.
“Fifteen families are the most affected and they were shifted to the Municipal board guest house but were unable to stay overnight due to excessive cold so we are demanding immediate rehabilitation as the temperatures are likely to go further down in the coming days making life miserable for all affected people,” Devi said
The district magistrate has also prohibited the owners of Mountain View and Malari-in hotels facing extensive subsidence from taking in any customers as a safety measure.
The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has announced the formation of a 14-member team to assess the situation in Joshimath.
Social activist Anoop Nautiyal said the sinking of Joshimath is a major cause of concern. “I urge the government to document all towns and villages in the state facing such sinking phenomena to activate its machinery for remediation measures without losing any time.”