Amid land subsidence and cracks appearing in homes and roads in Uttarakhand's Joshimath, it has been declared a disaster-prone zone. This comes a week after reports emerged that Joshimath, the gateway to several trekking locations and to religious places like Badrinath and Hemkunth Sahib, was 'sinking'.
Chamoli District Magistrate Himanshu Khurana told ANI on Monday that construction activities had been banned in the area in light of the situation. He said, "Joshimath area has been declared disaster-prone. Two teams of Central government including a team of the Jal Shakti ministry are arriving here. Construction activities have been banned in Joshimath and nearby areas. Dry ration kits are being distributed to affected people."
This comes even as the prime minister's office held a meeting on Sunday to chalk out plans for what to do next. Uttarakhand Chief Secretary Sukhbir Singh Sandhu who attended the meeting was quoted by Business Standard as saying, "People should be shifted from risk-prone areas, and the reasons (for the subsidence) found out quickly. The Government of India has spoken to experts. A team will be reaching Joshimath on Monday."
A team from the National Disaster Response Force and four teams from the State Disaster Response Force have been sent to Joshimath.
Here's all you need to know about the situation in Joshimath:
Over 500 houses affected
With cracks appearing on roads and inside homes, and some homes and hotels even tilting, the authorities have had to carry out rescue operations moving people away from the affected location.
The Indian Express reported that authorities had identified safe locations in the Pipalkoti and Gauchar areas for rehabilitation. It said that temporary shelters in halls and auditoriums in Chamoli had been arranged for rehabilitating people.
Chief minister Dhami told ANI on Monday that people from 68 houses had been moved from the area. He said Prime Minister Narendra Modi was monitoring the situation.
Last week locals blocked NH8 in protest. The Times of India reported that they had demanded immediate action from authorities and stopping work at the Vishnugad-Tapovan hydropower project of the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC).
The Indian Express report said that at least 561 houses Ravigram, Manohar Bagh, Gandhinagar, Parsari, Upper Bazar, Singhdhar, Suneel, Lower Bazar, and Marwari had been affected.
What has NTPC said?
The NTPC has meanwhile said that a tunnel it had built for its hydel project had no connection to the aquifer bursts and land subsidence. The Indian Express quoted an NTPC statement as saying, "The tunnel built by NTPC does not pass under Joshimath town. This tunnel is dug by a tunnel boring machine (TBM) and no blasting is being carried out presently."
The report, however, pointed out that the tunnel boring machine of the NTPC has had a history of breaches. Several reports including in The Times of India and PTI have quoted residents blaming the NTPC for Joshimath sinking. Residents also complained of the authorities turning a deaf ear to their pleas since 2021.
Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti convenor Atul Sati told PTI that land subsidence had begun in November 2021 and had affected 14 houses. Sati was quoted by PTI as saying, "We have been drawing the attention of authorities for the past 14 months. But we were not heeded. Now when the situation is getting out of hand, they are sending expert teams to assess things."
Former Uttarakhand chief minister Harish Rawat said on Sunday said that if tunneling was leading to Joshimath sinking, it should be stopped. ANI quoted Rawat as saying, "If experts say that tunnels or other factors are the culprits, all of them should be stopped & things should be taken up afresh. A committee of the locals should be formed, and with continuous consultation with everyone, improvements should be made."
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