Joshimath sinking: No mention of NTPC hydro project in NDMA report

Part 2: Report looks into Joshimath landslide causes; recommends banning construction but going ahead with Helang-Marwari bypass  

By Raju Sajwan
Published: Monday 09 October 2023
Tapovan-Vishnugad Hydroelectric Project is being constructed by NTPC. Photo: Sunny Gautam / CSE__

A report by eight agencies looking into the causes of landslides in Joshimath was made public after eight months. The second of a five-part series by Down To Earth (DTE) investigates the Post Disaster Need Assessment (PDNA) report prepared by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA).

In the first part, DTE looked into a report by Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology. 

There is no mention of the National Thermal Power Corporation’s (NTPC) hydroproject in the PDNA report by the NDMA regarding the landslide in Joshimath. In fact, the report recommended restarting  the construction of the Helang-Marwari bypass, which was halted by the district administration right after the landslides began.

This report lists many Joshimath landslide causes and many of the suggestions can be implemented in Joshimath and hill cities.

Ban on construction 

According to the report, Joshimath should ban new construction until the monsoon season ends. New construction with prefab light-weight structures in relatively safe areas may be relaxed after monsoon ground conditions are reassessed.

However, retrofitting of old buildings may be permitted. Single-story public buildings with prefab lightweight structures for emergency services like police stations, fire stations, hospitals and schools may also be allowed.

Building bylaws not mandatory  

Several reports have repeatedly warned that building codes are being broken in hillside cities, which the NDMA has confirmed. Building bye-laws in Joshimath are not mandatory for residential buildings, the PDNA report said. 

People apply for permits when they want to take out a loan or need government assistance, but Joshimath has no building permit system. If there were risk-based building bylaws in place and existing buildings followed them, the extent of damage would be reduced and retrofitting would be less expensive.

Lack of town planning

Joshimath lacks town planning and risk-based land use maps. The roads are narrow and there is no open space on both sides of the roads, which is very unsafe in an emergency, the report said. 

The city urgently requires a comprehensive development plan that includes building resilience, water, sanitation, solid and liquid waste disposal, electricity, road access and other facilities such as schools, hospitals, banks, and business centres. At this time, there is a strong need for such a plan, which should be developed with the needs of the next 10-15 years in mind. 

Increasing burden of tourism 

In 2022, 8,44,362 tourists visited Joshimath, bringing in Rs 101.32 crore in revenue, according to the report. However, tourism in the region was badly affected after major land subsidence was reported in January 2023. 

Sustainable tourism should be promoted and an alternative sustainable livelihood strategy developed to compensate for the loss of livelihoods, keeping in mind the risks and carrying capacity of Joshimath, the paper recommended. To reduce the tourism burden on Joshimath, alternative tourist accommodation areas and places should be promoted. 

Ban on tall buildings

During the disaster, multi-story buildings in Joshimath became a topic of discussion. The NDMA has made several suggestions regarding building construction. 

Since Joshimath city falls under seismic zone five and is most sensitive to earthquakes, the building bye-laws of this area should ensure that residential buildings are not built on less than 40 square metres area, the PDNA report said. The height of the building should not exceed 7.5 metres. There should be at least 4.5-metre-wide road to reach the residential building. 

The floor-area ratio for housing should not exceed 1.7, the NDMA paper said. Commercial buildings should not be allowed to be constructed on an area of ​​less than 10 square metres. 

Apart from this, no construction should be allowed within approximately 250 metres around the landslide areas shown in the landslide risk zone map of the state in the report. Construction on plots with a gradient of 30 degrees or more will be permitted after a distance of 15 metres from the upper and lower slope areas, which will be included in the setback.

Additionally, construction will be allowed after a setback of 10 metres in both the upper and lower slope areas of a plot with a slope ranging from 15 degrees to 30 degrees. A 50-metre buffer zone should be left on either side of the seismic fault line before construction can begin. Sloping roof will be mandatory in 50 per cent buildings in hilly areas

Drainage to blame for landslides 

Landslides in Joshimath are thought to be primarily caused by inadequate drainage. In Joshimath, water from drains, sewers, and even rain is seeping through, in addition to drinking water, the NDMA said.

Joshimath has six main drains, which are in a poor state of maintenance, the document stated. Only 48 per cent of the 17,854-metre-long drain is connected to the main line. At many places its design is dilapidated, encroached upon and unscientific. 

Soak pits

More than 90 per cent of the houses in the city depend on unscientifically constructed soak pits to manage waste water and excreta, the paper found. These homes are more vulnerable to sliding towards the slope, land subsidence, or collapse due to a sudden flood because the dirty water keeps seeping in and lowers the soil's bearing capacity. 

In order to prevent leakage of any surface water in the long run, all improperly built soak pits should be demolished and the necessary improvements made, the report said.


The existing 14.94-kilometre-long sewage main line in Joshimath does not cover the wards of Parasari and Ravigram, the PDNA report stated. The estimated cost of providing 291 sewage connections in these two wards is extremely high — a total of Rs 150 crore or Rs 25 lakh per connection, according to the Uttarakhand Drinking Water Corporation. 

For Joshimath, the PDNA advised creating an urban sanitation plan that would include decentralised sewage facilities for wards and homes where the 14.94 km of existing sewer line would not be adequate. 

Drinking water

The water supply network in Joshimath is 47 years old; the aged pipes are rusted and the storage network is also dilapidated, resulting in underground leakage of water, which is difficult to stop.

About 40 to 50 percent of the approximately 1 million litres of water produced daily is lost due to leakage in the system and does not reach the end user, the report estimated. This increases increased surface moisture that can increase causes of land subsidence. 

Helang bypass necessary

However, the report has recommended building the disputed Helang-Marwari bypass road. This bypass is approximately 21 kilometres long. The construction of this bypass will reduce the traffic burden in Joshimath city, the paper stated. 

Monitoring of ground movements

The report highly recommended monitoring the area to understand ground movements, by establishing ground control points for long periods and recommended a ground-based early warning system.

Joshimath dependent on hydropower

While there is no mention of the Tapovan-Vishnugad Hydro Electric Project being built by NTPC in the report, it stated that Joshimath and surrounding areas are  dependent on hydro power for electricity. However, these power plants are of very low capacity.

Joshimath itself generates 4.375 megawatts of electricity, the paper stated. The maximum demand for electricity in Joshimath city is 5.86 MW, while the average demand is 3.78 MW. Not only Joshimath, but the entire population from Helang to Badrinath is provided electricity from three hydropower plants. Among these, the three MW Urgam Hydropower Plant is managed by Uttarakhand Jal Vidyut Nigam Limited, which mainly serves Joshimath city. 

Aside from that, two small hydropower generation units with capacities of 0.75 MW and 0.625 MW, respectively, provide electricity to Pandukeshwar and Badrinath.

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