Joshimath: Subsidence in several Uttarakhand villages since December 25, 2022

Down To Earth ground report finds widening cracks in remote villages around Joshimath

By Raju Sajwan
Published: Monday 16 January 2023
Cracks in houses in Selang village. Photo: Sunny Gautam / CSE

Indian Space Research Organization’s (ISRO) satellite image showing how much Joshimath has sunk was removed from the organanisation’s website, but locals told Down To Earth that cracks in the area have been widening since December. The pace of the sinking has drastically increased over the last week. 

The National Remote Sensing Center of ISRO released images of Joshimath, Uttakahand, showing the area sank 5.4 cm between December 27, 2022, and January 8, 2023. The photos have now been removed from the website. 

The villagers blame several urbanisation projects in the area for their troubles. However, the reason for the increase in landslides and cracks in various areas of Uttarakhand after the last week of December has become a matter of concern that needs to be urgently investigated.

Read more: Joshimath: What escalated the situation on the intervening night of January 2-3?

DTE team visited Subhai village, about 17 kilometres upstream, from Joshimath by road and Atali village, about 215 km downstream. Cracks in the houses, courtyards and fields were observed in these two villages in the last week of December.

Fissures in houses in Subhai village. Photo: Sunny Gautam / CSE

Fissures in houses in Subhai village. Photo: Sunny Gautam / CSE

Villagers from Subhai couldn’t state a reason for the cracks, but the residents of Atali said the cracks are forming due to a tunnel and a railway station being built just below the village. 

Raini village in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district suffered heavily in 2021. A portion of Nanda Devi glacier broke away February 7, 2021, leading to flash floods. Unexpectedly heavy rainfall on June 17, 2021 caused further damage. 

The villagers were to be resettled in Subhai, but the residents had refused to accommodate them. Now Subhai is also facing an uncertain future even as Raini villagers continue to stay in their unsafe houses. 

Subhai is about 2,600 metres above sea level and is a three-km walk to Bhavishya Badri. 

Lore suggests that the mountains of Jai and Vijay at Patmila near Vishnuprayag will collapse, due to which the road to Badrinath Dham will become very inaccessible, resulting in the re-emergence of Badrinath. 

Lord Badrinath’s temple will be re-established at Bhavishya Badri, it further suggests. 

The kitchen wall of Subhai resident Surendra Singh Rawat collapsed suddenly a week ago. “I was having dinner with my family when the wall suddenly collapsed. We didn’t feel an earthquake; this happened very suddenly,” said Rawat. 

Tremors were felt in the village after Rishiganga was flooded on February 7, 2021. Cracks were seen in the village after heavy rains in June 2021, but they were repaired. But from the last week of December, more and more cracks were being seen in the village. 

Prem Singh Rawat built his house only two years back, but it is also showing cracks now. “The fractures started appearing about eight-10 days ago,” he said. 

There are around 120 families in Subhai and 75 per cent of them are showing fissures. The situation was such that people started competing to show the cracks of their houses to the DTE team. 

Most of the residents Laxman Singh Rawat, Roop Singh Farswan, Nandan Singh Rawat, Heera Singh Rana, Bhanguli Devi, Jawahar Singh Farswan and Gabbar Singh Rawat — noticed the cracks appearing in the last week of December. 

The administration has been informed, but no official has come around to take stock of the situation, claim the locals. Most could not point out the reason for it. 

“There may have been tremors due to work by the public sector firm National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) for its dam. The government must look into it,” said Prem. 

Houses in Selang village also started forming fissures at the end of December. NTPC’s hydropower plant is in the area and the corporation acquired the village land in 2005. 

Read more: Simply Put: Joshimath Rehabilitation

The power plant is situated inside the mountain right under the village, said locals. NTPC hollowed out the mountain and built a seven-storey building, according to villager Narendra Bisht, who used to work in the plant.

“A railway line has also been laid inside the mountain,” said Bisht. “Loco trains run on it. A surge shaft for the hydropower plant is just 100 metres away from our village, which is also visible from the outside,” he said. 

When the work began for the plant in 2007, there were so many explosions that almost all village houses were damaged, Bisht added. “NTPC repaired some of them. Many got new houses with compensation money, which also have cracks now,” he said. 

“I built a new house with the compensation amount in 2006-07,” said villager Gajendra Singh. “My home also started showing breaches about two weeks ago.” 

There are about 150 houses in Selang. A small number of cracks can be seen in almost every house, but the residents are fearful after looking at the situation in Joshimath. 

A memorandum by all the villagers was submitted to the local sub-divisional magistrate about a week ago, said Bisht. “All officials are focusing only on Joshimath and no officials have paid heed to us till now.” 

The tunnel boring machine is drilling the pressure tunnel or head race tunnel for the project, but the rest are being blasted open, said Bisht. “There are at least two blasts a day, the effects of which can be felt at our homes,” he said. 

A self-help group lent me money to build a house, but even this one is unsafe to live in now, said Bhawani Devi, head of the women’s group Mahila Mangal Dal, Selang. “When there are explosions, even the windows of the houses make noises,” she said. 

Shrikant Bisht said he built a new house in 2016 as the old one was falling apart. “The new one has several breaches now. All of the compensation money went into building the house,” he said. 

NTPC had made a one-time settlement as compensation, in which Rs 1 lakh was given to a family, said Bisht. “Jobs were also promised, but as the jobs were through contract companies, I was fired after the work was over,” he said. 

Houses in Atali village adjacent to Byasi in Tehri Garhwal district have also started showing fissures after December 25, 2022. 

Breaches seen in houses in Atali village. Photo: Sunny Gautam / CSE

“I first noticed cracks in my fields on December 25,” said villager Jai Singh. He later found cracks in his courtyard as well. 

Singh informed about the fissures to administrative officers of Railway Vikas Nigam Limited. Officials surveyed the rifts, put cemented tape over them, and told Singh to inform them if more fissures appeared, he said.  

“Blasting is often done for creating the railway tunnel,” claimed Singh. The Railways started work in the area in 2020. The rail line passing through here is part of the Rishikesh-Karanprayag Rail Project.

The Railways also gave the villagers compensation for acquiring their land. But the homes built with the money have already developed rifts. The village also had three sources of water, one of which has completely dried up now. The other two also have little water. 

Read more: Stop all hydroelectric projects in Himalayan region to avoid a Joshimath repeat: Experts

Uttarakhand government’s Jal Sansthan laid a pipeline for drinking water from a distance of five km, said Singh. But the water was also running dry. Earlier, the supply ran for an hour, which has now gone down to just 15 minutes. 

A water crisis is looming over the village, and Singh fears it will become difficult for him to live there anymore. 

“The cracks in the fields have become so wide that the railways have covered them with plastic so that rainwater does not fill in those fissures. The rainwater endangers the tunnel right under the village, risking the lives of all villagers,” he said.

Villagers Govind Singh Chauhan, Prem Singh Chauhan and Basanti Devi also showed the DTE team the rifts in their houses. 

The water sources in the villages of Dogi Patti are drying up and people are not able to do farming due to the tunnels being built for the railway project, a June 2021 report by DTE said

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