Climate Change

North India Deluge 2023: Spectre of flooding hangs over Joshimath after glacial burst

The town’s residents have not yet been given alternative housing after January’s subsidence; they have been left to fend for themselves

By Trilochan Bhatt
Published: Tuesday 11 July 2023
The Badrinath National Highway is continuously closed due to debris coming from the hill near Chhinka. Photo: Chamoli Police's Twitter handle

The ongoing heavy rainfall across North India has again left a spectre of doom hanging over the town of Joshimath in Uttarakhand. The town, which saw massive land subsidence last December and this January, was in the throes of anxiety on July 10, 2023, when a glacier burst about 50 kilometres from it.

The glacial burst led to a rise in the water level of the Jumma nallah (watercourse) in the Niti Valley. The nallah flows into the Dhauliganga river which flows by Joshimath. Consequently, the people of the town could not sleep on the night of July 10.

The Jumma drain in Niti Valley, about 50 km from Joshimath, suddenly swelled around 5 pm on July 10. According to local residents, the surge occurred at a time when it was not raining.

Eyewitnesses told this reporter that the drain was flooded with water similar to what was seen in the Rishiganga on February 7, 2021. The Raini bridge was washed away on that day.

A large boulder was stuck just below the bridge of the Jumma Nallah, due to which the bridge broke down late at night.

The bridge, built by the Border Roads Organisation (BRO), is the only one from Joshimath to the Chinese border. The breakdown of the bridge has disrupted the supply of essential goods to the border. Border villages like Kaga, Garpak, Dronagiri, Jelam, Kosa, Malari, Farkia, Bampa, Gamshali and Neeti, have been isolated due to the breakdown of the bridge.

The Mana Valley has also been badly affected due to heavy rains. The Badrinath route has been washed away at three places in this valley.

The Badrinath Yatra has completely stopped. The highway is blocked due to continuous debris coming from the hill near Chhinka, about 25 km from Joshimath.

According to Pushkar Singh Rana, president of the Joshimath block gram pradhan association and head of border village Dronagiri, the bridge broke with a loud sound at 1 am and the entire valley was cut off. However, by morning, the water level of the Jumma had returned to normal.

Laxman Singh Butola, head of Sukhi Bhalgaon village located a short distance away from the spot, said it was not possible to cross the nallah even though the water level was low.

Administration and forest department personnel have reached the spot. Army officials are also expected to reach the location soon.

“First of all, there is a need to create an alternative route, because the biggest problem is the closure of the army's supply chain due to the collapse of the bridge,” Butola said.

According to former Joshimath municipality member Prakash Negi, the people of Joshimath, affected by the landslide, have been scared for the last three days.

Most people spent the whole night awake. It rained heavily throughout the night of July 9-10. Watercourses or drains flowing from Auli Dande towards Joshimath are in spate.

In fact, the process of widening the cracks in Joshimath has not stopped completely yet. According to Negi, the width of the cracks seen on the paved roads is increasing, but the condition of the cracks in the fields and vacant land is not known at the moment, because tall grass and vegetation has grown all around. No arrangements have been made by the administration to keep an eye on these cracks.

Atul Sati, chief convenor of Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, said the conditions of Joshimath were deteriorating continuously.

“The cracks are growing. Many families are living in unsafe homes. The families who left their homes in January and moved to hotels and other buildings decided by the administration have also returned to their homes some time ago,” he told this reporter.

There are many people who want to build a house in other locations. But there is no one to give advice on where to build.

According to Sati, the reports of the eight agencies that conducted the investigation and survey after the landslide are not being made public.

There is a ban on building new houses in Joshimath and the price of people’s land has not been fixed. The people of Joshimath, thus, have no other option but to live amid danger.

The state government is also turning a blind eye to Joshimath. On April 8, a delegation of Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti had met the chief minister.

Some demands were placed before the chief minister. These included making arrangements for the stay of the affected people for one year. The chief minister had also assured that these demands will be fulfilled at the earliest, but nothing has happened so far.

Prakash Rawat, former area Panchayat president of Joshimath, said the continuous rains had raised the threat risk for Joshimath. The government should pay immediate attention to this, he added.

In the last two days, Uttarakhand has been receiving much more rainfall than normal. According to the Meteorological Department, Uttarakhand received 144 per cent more rainfall than normal on July 9, while on July 10, it received 58 per cent more rainfall.

Chamoli district received 232 per cent more rainfall than normal on July 9 and 80 per cent above normal on July 10. During the same time, Joshimath received about 60 mm of rain. 

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