Natural Disasters

Sinking town: Probe NTPC project, say experts as subsidence creates panic in Joshimath

Uttarakhand government to prepare prefabricated buildings to shift people whose houses have cracked  

By Raju Sajwan
Published: Thursday 05 January 2023
Sinking town: Probe NTPC project, say experts as subsidence creates panic in Joshimath
Cracks have developed in almost 600 houses in Joshimath. Photo: twitter@navalkant Cracks have developed in almost 600 houses in Joshimath. Photo: twitter@navalkant

The extent to which the National Thermal Power Corporation’s (NTPC) Tapovan-Vishnugad hydropower project and Helang bypass are responsible for over 500 houses in Uttarakhand’s Joshimath town developing cracks must be investigated, experts have told Down To Earth.

The experts’ comments come even as Chamoli district magistrate Abhishek Tripathi wrote a letter to NTPC and Hindustan Construction Ltd January 5, 2023, asking them to prepare 2,000 prefabricated buildings to shift people whose houses have developed cracks.

Tripathi also issued orders to stop the construction of the Tapovan-Vishnugad Hydro Power Project and Helang Bypass. Earlier, the administration had closed the Joshimath to Auli ropeway, Asia’s largest.

The cracks started appearing in Joshimath during October 2021. However, the government did not pay attention to them until now, when the situation got out of hand.

Scared and agitated people took out torchlight processions across Joshimath January 4, alleging that the government was not taking the cracks seriously.

They also claimed that NTPC, responsible for the cracks in Joshimath, was being shielded. Locals had earlier protested by keeping the market closed on October 24 last year.

So far, 561 houses have developed cracks in Wards 1-10 of the town. Also, two hotels in Ward 4 have been evacuated due to the cracks.

Atul Sati, convenor of Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, claimed that a tunnel that is part of the Tapovan-Vishnugad project has hollowed the ground from inside.

Locals’ apprehensions were further strengthened when muddy water started to seep from the ground in the Marwadi Ward or Ward 2 of Joshimath town. People suspect that the water is coming from the under-construction tunnel being built uphill.

SP Sati, geologist and head of the Basic and Social Science Department of the College of Forestry, Ranichauri, Tehri Garhwal, told Down to Earth that a sample of water seeping at Marwadi should be matched with the water of the Dhauliganga at Tapovan, where the tunnel of the Tapovan-Vishnugad project starts.

Tapovan is 15 km away from Joshimath. The tunnel ends at Selang, about 5 km from Joshimath.

Sati was among the scientists who studied the land subsidence and cracks in Joshimath at the request of the locals. He was accompanied by Naveen Juyal and Shubhra Sharma, associated with the Physical Research Laboratory, Ahmedabad.

These scientists had said in their report that the slopes around Joshimath are in a very delicate condition and have become unstable.

Sati noted that fears had been expressed in 2013, that tunnels that were part of hydropower projects could cause disasters in the state. That was the year when such projects had been stopped.

In the first week of December 2022, a survey by the municipality found that 2,882 people could be affected due to such a disaster. Municipality president Shailendra Panwar stated that so far, 550 houses have been found unprotected, of which 150 houses are such that they can collapse at any time. They should be relocated immediately.

In fact, there have been reports of land subsidence in the entire Niti Valley since the Chamoli disaster of February 7, 2021.

The incidents intensified after the heavy rains of June and October 2021. In June 2021, reports of subsidence were also reported from Raini, the village of Gaura Devi, the heroine of the Chipko movement.

There were incidents of land subsidence in Joshimath in the 1970s as well. A committee was then formed under the chairmanship of Garhwal Commissioner Mahesh Chandra Mishra to investigate the cause of the collapse.

In his report submitted in 1978, he had said major construction works should not be carried out in Joshimath as well as the Niti and Mana valleys as these areas are situated on moraines. These are places where debris accumulates after a glacier melts.

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