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

New leaks reported in several areas; closed tunnel in Tapovan may be the source

By Raju Sajwan
Published: Thursday 12 January 2023
A leak near Joshimath’s Marwari area. Photo: Sunny Gautam / CSE

The crisis in Joshimath, Uttarakhand continues to worsen, with new water leaks reported in several areas January 12, 2023. Residents are gripped with fear and uncertainty, but the question still remains: Why did cracks in buildings suddenly deepen on the intervening night of January 2-3, which led to several houses and two hotels bowing down?

A resident told Down To Earth he felt the ground shake on the fateful night between 1 am-2 am. “I woke up as I felt an earthquake, but then went back to sleep thinking I had a nightmare,” said Prakash Sati, a young man who works in a hotel in the city’s Marwari area.

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

But the real nightmare awaited Sati when he woke up. Water was gushing out from a wall near the gate of a residential colony of Jaypee Group, located at some distance from his hotel.

In the last week of December, Suraj Kaparwan of Manohar Bagh saw minor cracks in his fields. He didn’t think much about it and filled them up. But on the morning of January 3, 2023, the cracks had deepened and the ground had caved in. 

“I had set up a laundry plant worth Rs 35 lakh. The pillars of the plant had also caved in and the entire plant became tilted,” Kaparwan said. 

Indian public sector firm National Thermal Power Corporation has claimed there was no blasting for Tapovan Vishnugad Hydro Project, but the reality is far from it, said Atul Sati, convenor of public forum Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti.

“There was continuous blasting to move a stuck tunnel boring machine. The number of these explosions increased in December, but on the night of January 2-3, the explosions were so strong that even the locals felt them,” said Atul. 

These explosions increased cracks in the houses and caused land subsidence at many places, he claimed. 

The authorities are mum over the leaks in the Marwari area, the convenor added. “Water may be coming from the closed tunnel in Tapovan as it is very muddy,” he said. 

Two tunnels are being dug as part of the Tapovan-Vishnugad Hydroelectric Project. One is being dug from Tapovan and the other from Selang. On February 7, 2021, more than 140 people died due to floods in the Rishiganga and the project was heavily damaged. 

The latest leaks in Singhdhar area have led to a roadside wall bursting and water gushing out. This water is also muddy and is approximately 500 metres above the spot where the water is spurting out in Marwari area. 

The wall of the residential colony has also collapsed and deep cracks appeared in a badminton court. Around 35 families living here have already been shifted out of the area. 

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

DTE team went to the Alaknanda river flowing near the colony and found that the river was about 500 metres below the water-gushing point. Leakages were visible at almost every turn.

A spot on the mountain from where water was pouring out was exactly in line with the colony’s location, said Ishwar Singh Panwar, who runs a tea stall on the banks of the bridge built on the Alaknanda river. The latest leak is also almost in the same line. 

There are speculations that the areas around this aquifer are the most affected and the land subsidence can shift towards the river at any moment. 

The water gushing out from the mountains of Joshimath could be related to the water entering the tunnel of the Tapovan Hydro Project on February 7, 2021, said geological scientist SP Sati. “A sample of this water should be checked with the water of Dhauliganga flowing in Tapovan,” he said. 

Read more: 

Simply Put: Joshimath, the tilted town

Simply Put: India’s ‘Land of Gods’ is sinking

Joshimath dispatch: Afraid to report cracks in homes, locals protesting demolition of hotels say

Joshimath, a well-engineered calamity

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