New Joshimath: Activist demands town on the lines of ‘New Tehri’. But where will it come up?

Land subsidence is a ‘silent disaster’ that has taken hold of the Uttarakhand Himalayas; around 500 villages in the state are already in a Joshimath-like situation  

By Raju Sajwan
Published: Sunday 15 January 2023

Photo: Sunny Gautam / CSEPhoto: Sunny Gautam / CSE

People in Joshimath, led by the Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, demanded January 13, 2023 that a new town be built for those affected due to the land subsidence in the area.

While the government is yet to reply, questions have already arisen over where the new town should be located, given that land subsidence is a ‘silent disaster’ that has taken hold in the Uttarakhand Himalayas.

Atul Sati, the convenor of the Samiti, urged the government in a statement to build a new Joshimath. He called on the administration to form a panel of experts to decide on a location to build the new town.

Sati and others have said the new town should be on the lines of New Tehri. The old town of Tehri and its surrounding villages in Uttarakhand were submerged for the Tehri Hydro Project and a new settlement was built for the people of Tehri in the 2010s.

Sati said the new Joshimath should be in a place that is safe enough so as not be harmed for 100 years. Also, there should be a detailed study on the carrying capacity of the new city. There should be strict laws for construction works which should be complied with. No heavy construction should be allowed in the new town.

He also demanded compensation for the inhabitants of Joshimath. Each person should be given a compensation of Rs 1 crore which should be paid by the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC).

The Tapovan-Vishnugad hydropower project is being constructed by NTPC and the tunnel being dug for it is being blamed for the current condition of Joshimath.

New town, but where?

But the question arises as to where the new Joshimath will be established. Down To Earth’s Hindi-language edition last November asked a similar question in its cover story.

Joshimath is not the only place in Uttarakhand whose people are being displaced and need to be settled somewhere else. There are about 500 villages in the state which are to be relocated.

Most of these villages are situated in places where a hydropower project is on.

So far, a safe place has not been found for these villagers. Take for instance, the village of Chai, which is located right opposite Joshimath. Houses in Chai collapsed due to the hydropower project below it. But the villagers have not yet been compensated.

The 18 affected families were settled in the Marwari area of Joshimath. But they are now vulnerable to the land subsidence in Joshimath. In such a situation, the question of where to settle the displaced people remains.

SP Sati, a geologist and head of the department of basic and social sciences at the College of Forestry, Uttarakhand University of Horticulture and Forestry, said it was very difficult to save areas in circumstances similar to Joshimath.

He added that the exercise to save Joshimath was too little, too late.

The government has not yet said anything on the ‘survival’ of Joshimath.

The Cabinet meeting held January 12 decided that according to the survey of the Geological Survey of India, arrangements will be made for the people of Joshimath to stay in four safe places. But it has not been clarified as to whether this rehabilitation will be temporary or permanent.

Uttarakhand Chief Secretary SS Sandhu January 13 described Joshimath as a ‘natural disaster’ instead of a human-made one. He said the report of the experts from seven different organisations tasked by the Centre to find out why the disaster happened was awaited. 

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