Joshimath Sinking: Preparations for Char Dham Yatra begin; locals still clueless about permanent rehabilitation

Reports by eight central technical institutes behind the cause for the crisis in the holy town not released to public yet.

By Raju Sajwan
Published: Wednesday 01 March 2023
No official report into the reason behind the large-scale land subsidence in Joshimath has been released yet. Photo Sunny Gautam / CSE
No official report into the reason behind the large-scale land subsidence in Joshimath has been released yet. Photo Sunny Gautam / CSE No official report into the reason behind the large-scale land subsidence in Joshimath has been released yet. Photo Sunny Gautam / CSE

The crisis in Joshimath, Uttarakhand, was reported two months ago. Since then, no official report into the reason behind the large-scale land subsidence has been released, nor any announcement of permanent living arrangements for those displaced. On the other hand, the state government is making arrangements for the Char Dham Yatra, which will begin early in May. 

Special care is being taken, especially for the Badrinath Highway passing through Joshimath, so it does not affect the pilgrimage route. However, the highway is still in poor condition and is breaking down in many places.

A major portion of the highway leading to Badrinath passes through Joshimath. The main road passes through the Narasimha temple. 

Read more: DTE Reportage: How Joshimath has rung alarm bells across India’s Himalayan states

“Deep pits are regularly appearing on the highway on the route from the Cantonment market down to the petrol pump and around Marwari area,” said Prakash Negi, ex-councillor of Joshimath Municipality, associated with Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti.

The holes are so deep that it is difficult to gauge their depth, Negi added. A pit was so deep that it took three truckloads of debris to fill it, he added. “The repairs are being done on a daily basis by the Border Roads Organization (BRO). But it is not yet clear when the potholes will stop appearing suddenly,” he said. 

The Uttarakhand government has started the process of registration of pilgrims soon after the announcement of the opening date of Char Dham pilgrimage. The government had earlier stated that only a specified number of pilgrims will be allowed after registration, but the number has not been disclosed yet. 

“There was a similar announcement last year and the government announced it three days before the pilgrimage began. But by then, it was too late and pilgrims had arrived in large numbers by then,” said Anup Nautiyal, president of the Social Development for Communities (SDC) Foundation.

There was chaos in Rishikesh and other areas and there was no way to stop the pilgrims, he added. 

The government should take lessons from the Joshimath crisis and immediately study the carrying capacity of the Char Dham, said Nautiyal. It must clarify in advance how many pilgrims will be allowed to travel daily and a plan for the safety of the passengers as well as the local people should be prepared in advance.

A deadline has been set for the technical institutes studying the disaster-prone area of Joshimath to submit their reports, additional secretary for Uttarakhand government Ranjit Kumar Sinha said in a press statement on January 17, 2023. 

Read more: Himalayan plunder: Hydroelectric plans in Arunachal will effect downstream Assam too

Resettlement policy unclear

clear rehabilitation policy has not yet been announced for the victims of the landslide in Joshimath. A recent notice by the state government announced compensation for damaged buildings. 

Residential buildings will get aid Rs 31,201 per square metre (sqm) to Rs 36,527 per sqm, it said. For commercial buildings, compensation rates range from Rs 39,182 per sqm to Rs 46,099 per sqm.

At present, eight technical institutes under the central government are studying and testing the landslides in and around Joshimath from a technical point of view, the order further stated. 

The report will help the governments decide what areas of Joshimath should be declared unsafe and how many families will be displaced. A permanent rehabilitation policy will be decided on its basis, the notice added.

“We have rejected this half-hearted order by the government and demanded that a policy for permanent rehabilitation should be made public at the earliest by making the technical report public,” said Atul Sati, convenor of citizen group Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti.

It must be questioned why the reports by the technical institutes have not been made public until now, said Sati. “This is troubling all Joshimath residents. Only these reports can show how safe this entire area is,” he said. 

A team of 10 scientists from the Central Building Research Institute (CBRI) had been given three weeks’ time, according to Sinha. Another team of 10 scientists from the National Geophysical Research Institute (NGRI) had to submit a preliminary report in two weeks and a final report in three weeks.

Wadia Institute’s seven scientists had two weeks for a preliminary report and two months for a final report and Geological Survey of India’s (GSI) team of seven scientists had two weeks for a preliminary report and two months for a final report.

Central Ground Water Board’s (CGWB) team of four scientists had a week to submit a preliminary report and the final one in three weeks. Indian Institute of Remote Sensing (IIRS) had a week for a preliminary report and the final paper was to be submitted in three months, Sinha had said. 

Read more: Joshimath sinking: National highway construction in 100-km range of border now has riders

However, none of the reports has been made public till now. 

Fear of heavy rains

Locals are fearful of any major changes that can worsen the situation. The change in the weather also has the residents apprehensive. There was light rain in the area on February 27, dipping the temperatures. 

The effect of this rain was not visible on the land subsidence and cracks in buildings; however, locals remain uneasy. 

“In the monsoons, heavy rains can damage the area considerably. However, there has been no clarification from the government yet about its preparations for the monsoon,” Sati added. 

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