Joshimath Sinking Explained: The Environment’s Alert For Humans

Author, Rishika Jain

Joshimath, historically known as Jyotirmath is a small city in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. It is a famous tourist place as it is the gateway for the mountain climbers & trekkers. Along with this, Joshimath is one of the important holy places for the followers of Sanatan dharma.

The town of Joshimath got stuck in the land subsidence crisis that made the local people highly worried because their houses and land started developing deep cracks. Till now, almost 678 houses were red marked by the authorities that caused the movement of 81 families. The whole town is on red alert of landslides and subsidence.

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Image Source: Twitter

The question that arises is what caused the sinking of Joshimath? One of the major reasons behind this is the continuous unsustainable construction projects by the government. Joshimath is situated over the slopes that become highly weak  because of explosives, extensive drilling and digging used for the roads and dams construction. In September 2022, a report was published by the Uttarakhand State Disaster Management Authority (UDMSA) that clearly held the ill planned construction projects responsible for the landslides in the town. The report also pointed out the undeveloped water & drainage system of the town as the cause of land sinking because weak drainage network causes the development of soak pits in the houses that results in the pushed down of ground’s loose material.

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The land subsidence problem of Joshimath is not something that occurs immediately. The same problem was there a decade ago that also caused the formation of the MC Mishra committee. The committee came up with its findings in 1976 in which it clearly warned against the uncontrollable digging, explosive’s use and excavation of the slopes. But still, during the construction of Helang Marwari Pass, explosives with extensive drilling methods were used and the same scene is predicted by many geologists for the Char Dham project. In 2004, National Thermal Power Corporation, NTPC launched a 520 MW  hydropower project in the town that caused protest by the Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti as they considered it an important factor behind the town’s land sinking. In 2010, a tunnel was constructed for the same hydropower project. This tunnel construction caused the puncture of an aquifer over Selang village that caused the 700-800 litres water discharge per second. This incident results in the drying up of Joshimath’s groundwater added into the factor of land sinking.

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Image Source: Twitter

Along with these human factors, weather events can’t be neglected like the heavy rains in October 2021, cloudburst instances from 2015 to mid-2021 and the floods can also be added to this blown-up crisis of the town.

The centre and state government work together on the long and short term plans for the rehabilitation and conservation. The Uttarakhand government announced the help of Rs.1.50 lakhs to the shifted families whose houses have been red-marked. Along with this, CM Pushkar Singh Dhami also claimed to compensate the affected people at market rate.

Rishika Jain is a student of Delhi School of Journalism, University of Delhi. Views are personal.

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