Joshimath and Garhwal the Sinking tale

Joshimath and Garhwal the Sinking tale
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Shahastranshu mishra

First picture which comes in our mind after listening a word “Heaven” is beautiful , clear , blue sky with some white patches of clouds below which rest the mighty mountains covered with greenery , giving habitat to uncountable species of flora and fauna.

Mountains have always been an object of great importance in the history of mankind. It is said that Humans turn towards the mountains for any unanswered question. Mountains have also been center of pilgrimage for many major religions , cultures. 

But do we actually recognize the value of mountains , nature or environment ? Or just for development we have totally neglected the importance and mightyness of these all ?

Joshi math (जोशीमठ) a town situated in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand , a state known for it’s culture, beauty and diverse communities.

But this town and its surrounding towns such as Karnprayag (कर्णप्रयाग) , Bhatwari (भटवाड़ी) , Gopeshwar (गोपेश्वर) , Bahugunagar (बहुगुणानगर) are sinking or are on brink of sinking.

These towns situated at a height of 6150 feet. 

● Geographical Features These towns are situated on moraines ( accumulation of unconsolidated debris , majorly of glaciers) of glaciers , which in layman’s language means that the soil below these towns is loose which is accumulated by the movement of glaciers.

These towns are situated on moraines ( accumulation of unconsolidated debris , majorly of glaciers) of glaciers , which in layman’s language means that the soil below these towns is loose which is accumulated by the movement of glaciers.

This soil is not favourable for heavy construction as these soil do not have any strong support and some heavy vibrations can bring chaos. This soil is also not favourable for heavy traffic but as the soil is fertile and being fertile the soil gives back a significant yield but also being loose , the soil doesn’t supports heavy construction. 

● History 

Nearly 50 years ago these areas felt some disturbances , then Uttrakhand was part of Uttaranchal (UK+UP) , which attracted some attention resulting in formation of Mishra Committee. Later this matter came into limelight again when in 2003 a group of local activists wrote a letter to then President of India Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam.

Also in 2009 during the construction of a tunnel which was beneath Joshimath , which was for Tapovan Hydropower Plant , the construction team punctured an aquifer.

Later in 2013 Kedarnath disaster also affected already vernacular geography. 

Also floods of 2013 and 2021 have played a big role in this disaster.

● Mishra Committee

In 1976 a 18 membered committee headed by MC Mishra , the then collector of Garhwal , appointed by Center was established to find out that why Joshimath is sinking.

Some major findings of the report are :-

  ◆ Joshimath lies on an ancient landslide , resting on a deposit of sand and stone , not rock. Alaknanda and Dhauli Ganga play their part in triggering landslides , by eroding the river banks and mountains edges. 

  ◆ The report clearly and bluntly mentions that this soil is not fit for heavy construction. Vibrations produced by blasting , heavy traffic , construction etc… can lead to a disequilibrium in natural factors , which are now visible.

  ◆ The report also mentions that this area needs a proper drainage and sewage system and afforestation near the cracks and cliffs are really very necessary to prevent soil erosion.

● Reasons of this Disaster

As mentioned before , the soil under this area is not suitable for heavy construction , but still National Thermal Power Cooperation (NTPC)’s Tapovan Vishnugad Hydropower Plant situated in Chamoli district planned to pass a tunnel under the top soil of major areas between the mountains. During this process in year 2009 an aquifer was punctured causing a disastrous discharge of 650 Litres per second. This discharge contains soil , silt and minerals which is flowing continuously from last 12 years caused a , hollow structure under these areas which is now shrinking and causing this disaster.

Soon after this , in 2014 NTPC signed an agreement with the locals to pay for inconvenience caused by NTPC as the locals were facing water shortage maybe due to discharge on aquifer. Chardham Project , Helong Vishnuprayag Bye Pass Project and some more projects are also a reason of this till some extent. But NTPC is very boldly rejecting all the accusations saying that there is no such tunnel under Joshimath and areas. Also they are denying that they have puntured and water source. But then where from the discharging water coming from with all fhe silt , soil ,.minerals along with it ?

● Cut to 2023

Today these areas are at the zenith of vernacularity , people living there are living with constant fear , counting days to pass.

Photos of the Garhwal reason are horrendous and spine chilling. More than 700 houses are sealed by the authority , nearly 600 houses are to be demolished. People there are shifted to a safe area. 

Authorities are constantly trying to provide shelter to people who lost their home. Some buildings have tilted such that they are now on a brink to collapse and this damage will come with a lot of collateral damage. These problematic buildings are first in the list of demolition.

Geologists have a very strong opinion that this chaos can neither be reversed nor can be repaired as the top soil under this area is constantly sinking. According to ISRO’s satellite images the town has sunk for more than 5.5 cms in last 15 days. A report states the fact that this area was sinking for more than 65mm every year but during the early November of 2022 and early 2023 , the town has sank more than ever. Houses , road , infrastructures are developing cracks making them unhabitable. 

Many high level meetings , committees are being set up to counter this problem.

We know that in this fast running world we also need to catch the pace but at what cost.

We are constantly neglecting the importance of sustainable development. Aftermath of which is front of us all.

People have spent their lives there , many cultures , traditions were born and may be buried in this very soil. We have to choose our priorities before it’s too late.

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