Joshimath is sinking! The tenants are leaving! The city ‘Joshimath’ once famous for its significant location, is now popular for its continued landslides.

Image Source: Hindustan Times

Over the past few decades, there have been many incidents of cracks being developed in buildings and roads, land sinking into the ground and residents experiencing one of their worst nightmares. The problem of Joshimath has become a warning sign for the towns and cities in the surrounding areas such as Karnaprayag and Gopeshwar which has reported issues of land subsidence in recent times.

With a thriving population of around 23,000 people, Joshimath is an important place in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district situated at an altitude of 1800 meters. This place is claimed to have come into existence only a hundred years ago. 

The theory behind this follows as such that an earthquake nearby caused a landslide and many rocks tumbled down and settled in this area. The rocks stabilized overtime and city was built on top of it. Joshimath land crisis cannot be ignored at all costs because it is close to other important locations such as Badrinath Shrine (pilgrimage spot for Hindus), City Auli (international skiing destination) and Indo-China border.

Buildings and roads getting cracks isn’t a new event for Joshimath and its small population. This has been happening for a long time now. A fresh case of such event took place on 2nd Jan 2023 at Prakash Bhotiyal’s house. Large cracks appeared in 9 of the 11 rooms in his house. Adding on to Joshimath’s land fate, the Seismic Zonation Map of India shows that Joshimath’s area falls in Zone 5 ‘the highest risk zone for earthquakes’.

The mainstream media has started covering this news only recently as now the problem has escalated so much that every fourth house has a crack. The National Disaster Response Force and the Border Security Forces have been carrying out evacuations and more than 80 families have been relocated. No doubt there are large constructions of hotels, restaurants and other establishments still taking place in Joshimath.

But the big question here is ‘Who is at ‘fault’ for Joshimath land subsidence?

Back in September 2022, the Uttarakhand Disaster Management Authority published a report where they blamed the ill-planned construction for Joshimath land crisis. The TV news channels are blaming the local residents for building their houses in such a sensitive area. The locals are blaming the government whereas the government is blaming the builders. The blame list doesn’t stop here as the builders are further blaming the mountains.

The natural disasters cannot be controlled though the natural erosions and other natural causes can be blamed on human development and climate change. The upcoming occurrence of flash floods and landslides will ultimately increase since it is estimated that over the 2 decades, Uttarakhand’s  average temperature is going to increase by 2°C. Government however, here lands at the top list since its their duty to stop any unplanned construction and manage the wastewater disposal and drainage system.

There can be several direct causes of Joshimath’s land crisis. First being the hydro-electric project started in 2006 whose construction is still going on. The second being the construction of Helong-Marwari Bypass, inaugurated by PM Modi in 2016 (6km long road) but temporarily stopped. Third remains the skiing city Auli which hints towards the cause of land subsidence in Joshimath. There are several other natural as well as man-made causes for the same but a clear picture is yet to be drawn.

Whatever be the cause but one thing remains certain that the land subsidence of Joshimath cannot be reversed now. According to reports, Joshimath has been sinked to a depth of 5.5 cm from 27th December 2022 to 8th January 2023. However the evacuation process is on now and replanning process of drainage systems and rainwater outlets are looked upon.

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