Rain, snowfall hit relief operations as Joshimath fights crisis

Jan 21, 2023 07:32 AM IST

The season’s first snowfall and rain in various parts of Uttarakhand have intensified fears of increasing land subsidence in Joshimath town.

Dehradun: The season’s first snowfall and rain in various parts of Uttarakhand have intensified fears of increasing land subsidence in Joshimath town, even as chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami reviewed the situation and directed officials to make all arrangements for the displaced residents to tackle the cold.

Snow-capped mountain peaks after fresh snowfall in Joshimath on Friday. (PTI)
Snow-capped mountain peaks after fresh snowfall in Joshimath on Friday. (PTI)

Also Read: After hotels, dismantling of residential structures begin in Joshimath

At least 849 buildings in the hill town had developed cracks and 867 people were displaced and shifted to temporary relief camps, as of Friday, days after the holy town in Chamoli district experienced sudden sinking and several houses developed major cracks in the first week of January.

After beginning the demolition of two precariously standing hotels last week, the Chamoli district administration on January 18 issued orders to bring down two residential properties in Manohar Bagh ward and on January 19, one residential property in Sunil ward. The demolition work for one of the properties in Monohar Bagh began on Thursday.

According to the MeT department, snowfall is likely to occur at places at a height of around 2,500 metres and above till January 24.

Also Read: Snowfall in Joshimath triggers fear among land subsidence affected families

On Friday, Dhami reviewed the situation and directed officials to ensure that enough heaters and bonfire material are supplied to the temporary relief centres. He also directed disaster management secretary Ranjit Kumar Sinha to make a thorough assessment of the amount required for rehabilitation and other necessary arrangements for the affected residents.

“The assessment should be made keeping all the points in mind by constantly coordinating with the Chamoli district magistrate and on the basis of the suggestions of the local people. All possible arrangements should be made for the affected families,” he said.

Dhami’s orders came amid concerns that the snowfall and rain may widen the cracks in the houses, further endangering the lives of the people in the town.

Also Read: In Joshimath, no increase in crack-width in last 3 days, says top official

“There are people in more than 600 houses which have developed cracks. The snowfall could widen and deepen these cracks. The lives of these people are under threat… several houses with cracks are yet to be declared unsafe,” Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti convener Atul Sati said.

“Whenever the underground water sources and drains become active after being recharged with snow, then the speed of land sliding may increase. In such a situation, houses with partial cracks and subsidence will be in serious danger,” he added.

Sati said they had urged the administration to shift people living in vulnerable houses to safer locations but no action has been taken so far.

“I don’t know for how long those living in hotels and relief camps would be safe. There has been a forecast for snowfall in the coming days as well. Mr Sinha (secretary, disaster management), please save the lives of people, not any company (NTPC),” he added.

Several environmentalists, geologists and local residents have alleged that the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC)’s 520 MW Tapovan Vishnugad hydropower project in the town may have triggered land subsidence in the region – a charge dismissed by the Centre.

Local residents who were shifted to the relief camps said it was becoming difficult to reside there due to the cold and snowfall.

“With snowfall, we fear our house in Singh Dhar ward which has developed cracks may fall. It’s very difficult to live in the relief camp in this biting cold, especially with our 9-year-old son. As the electricity comes and goes, the heater is of no use,” Anjali Rawat, who is residing in a relief camp at Nagar Palika Parishad, said.

Sinha assured that all measures are in place to tackle any emergency. “We have all arrangements in place to tackle any situation, even if it aggravates with snowfall. If more houses develop cracks, we will shift those living in them to safer locations,” he said.

Chamoli district magistrate Himanshu Khurana also assured of sufficient arrangements on the ground. “If the situation escalates, our teams will respond immediately. In relief camps, we have given quilts, heaters, and bonfire arrangements have been made to protect the residents from the cold,” he said.

He added that they had to stop the ongoing survey, distribution of relief material, and dismantling of unsafe structures due to snowfall.

Meanwhile, the snowfall in the town halted the demolition of two precariously standing hotels – Malari Inn and Mount View.

“We have stopped the dismantling of hotel Malari Inn and hotel Mount View due to snowfall. A house in Manohar Bagh is also being dismantled. The process has also been stopped. Once the snowfall stops, we will see how to resume operations,” Harak Singh Rana, an inspector with state disaster response force (SDRF), said.

The administration had begun the process of razing the hotel Malari Inn last week and the dismantling process of the adjoining damaged Mount View began the next day over fears that if one hotel is demolished at a time, the other would topple over. The two badly damaged hotels have been dangerously leaning against each other due to land subsidence in the town.

The snowfall also impacted an ongoing survey of the “unsafe” houses in the town.

DP Dobhal, a retired scientist from Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, said: “It depends upon the amount of snow and melting of snow if the situation of land sinking in Joshimath would escalate or not.”

“Today, there is light to moderate rainfall/snowfall in Joshimath and other parts of Chamoli district, while the activity is expected to increase from January 23 night onwards and last up to January 28. It can reach the heavy to very heavy rainfall/snowfall category. It can make the situation difficult in Joshimath as the town would see snow accumulation and the approach would be difficult,” Bikram Singh, director of India Meteorological Center Dehradun, said.

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