Natural Disasters

Joshimath won’t be saved unless NTPC’s project is shelved: Expert’s dire warning

Big projects should never have been sanctioned in and around Joshimath without conducting proper studies first, say experts

By Raju Sajwan
Published: Friday 06 January 2023

Photo: @ChamoliDm / TwitterThe historic town of Joshimath in Uttarakhand will be gone if an under-construction National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) project near it is not shelved, a geologist warned at a webinar January 6, 2023.

The Tapovan-Vishnugad Hydropower Project as well as the Helang Bypass should be shelved, Navin Juyal said at the webinar.

Juyal’s warning comes as scenes of panic continue to be witnessed in Chamoli district’s Joshimath, where cracks have appeared in over 600 houses as the town sinks due to land subsidence. Locals and environmentalists have blamed the subsidence on the project.

Two tunnels are being dug as part of the Tapovan-Vishnugad Hydroelectric Project. One is being dug from Tapovan and the other from Selang.

“For this, tunnelling is being done from one side by blasting and on the other with a Tunnel Boring Machine (TBM) from Selang. The TBM is still stuck in Selang. This work is being done by a private company due to which the situation has worsened,” Juyal said.

The NTPC has argued that the tunnelling has been done only up to four kilometres from Tapovan. But when it comes to studying the activity, independent scientists have been kept away, he noted.

Juyal also pointed to the water that was seeping in the Marwadi ward of Joshimath. He claimed that tunnelling could have been responsible to a great extent for the seepage.

The experts at the webinar said Joshimath was not the only town in Uttarakhand that was facing subsidence. There are many others on the brink. But the authorities are not listening to independent scientists.

Juyal, who has conducted independent studies in the area for 40 years, said the work being done on the Helang Bypass below Joshimath, which is situated on a steep slope, has made the area extremely vulnerable.

This, despite the fact that in 1976, the Mishra Committee had advised against any construction work being done in this area. But such recommendations were not accepted at all.

The geologist expressed apprehension that any government inquiry committee formed will give a clean chit to the Tapovan-Vishnugad and Helang Bypass projects and constructions done by locals will be blamed for the disaster.

“Till now, we do not know that the carrying capacity of Joshimath. The carrying capacity will have to be understood by digitisation. We have to gauge the potential of Joshimath’s soil and rock. Only then we can decide as to how many and what type of buildings can be constructed here,” the expert said.

According to Juyal, the area is also very seismically sensitive. This fact has been stressed since 1939, but nobody has paid heed.

Hemant Dhyani, convenor of the Ganga Awahan Committee and a member of the Supreme Court’s High Power Committee on the Char Dham project, said after the 2013 Kedarnath disaster, it was agreed that the mountains should not be tampered with. “Our recommendations were accepted in 2014, but not implemented,” he added.

Hydrogeologist and earth scientist Meeta Khilnani said the water seepage in Marwadi was very likely due to gas and water in the tunnel passing through there. That is why there was a need to study this area immediately.

“The hydrogeology of Joshimath and the surrounding area has been completely disturbed. Therefore, it is very important to have a comprehensive study before sanctioning any major project. Whereas no study was done here and big projects started,” she added.

Geologist Shubhra Sharma said Joshimath has been damaged to a great extent. “If Joshimath is to be saved, decisions will have to be taken on a war footing,” Sharma urged.

Mallika Bhanot, associated with the Ganga Mukti Abhiyan, said there is a need to create eco-sensitive zones in all of Uttarakhand’s valleys on the lines of the Bhagirathi Eco-Sensitive Zone.

“But the bureaucracy will have to change its thinking and work with independent scientists,” she said.

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