The Situation Is Still Grim And Evolving And May Invite A Catastrophe
The entire nation got flabbergasted when the holy town of Joshimath in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand located in an altitude of 6,152ft, is sinking due to may be human-induced causes. It has been declared a landslide-subsidence zone after cracks have started appearing in houses and roads and it is still increasing with each passing day. The door-to-door survey and shifting of the families living in danger zones have been intensified since then. The situation is still grim, fluid and evolving and might invite a catastrophe.
The sinking of the ground because of underground material movement causes land subsidence. There are a variety of reasons for causing this such as anthropogenic or natural i.e. extraction of natural resources like water, oil and mining activities. Earthquakes and soil erosion also bolster this cause.
Experts have failed to determine the exact cause of land subsidence in Joshimath till now. But they propose numerous theories behind such subsidence such as unplanned building, excessive population, river flow blockage, and hydropower activity. Being a seismic zone, it may be prone to frequent Earthquakes. However, the area is geologically unstable resulting in landslides, road breaches and localised subsidence. With increasing population and construction activity, there’s been a significant biotic disturbance. Other probable causes may be hillwash, the location of cultivable area and habitation on old landslide debris intermixed with glacial material, the natural angle of repose, weathering and undercutting by streams, formation of big fissure planes and movement along this plane. It is to be noted that heavy construction projects were undertaken in this area after 1962, without systematic adequate provisions for regulated drainage, leading to percolation of water which ultimately causes landslides. Tapovan-Vishnugad Hydro Project could be a contributing factor to this phenomenon. .
In the Committee report, under the chairmanship of then Commissioner, Garhwal Mandal, Mahesh Chandra Mishra, dated May 7, 1976 suggested restriction on felling of trees, heavy construction work, agriculture on slopes; construction of pucca drainage to stop seepage of rainwater, proper sewage system, and cement blocks on river banks to prevent erosion. The report noted that Joshimath is not suitable for a township. Along with an immediate action plan, there is an urgent requirement of a long-term plan to be shortened and work on the treatment of danger zones, sewer, and drainage should be completed at the earliest. However, the government has set up a new expert committee to examine the cause of recent development in Joshimath.
Marching ahead by the past experiences of forming expert committees and having their recommendations ignored, it is unclear what benefit would accrue by creating another one by the government. The Joshimath episode is a lucid caveat that the Himalayan environment is at a tipping point and it may not be able to withstand another push generated by intrusive anthropogenic activities in the form of massive construction projects of highways, tunnels, railway tracks, townships and dams - an ecosystem is already grappling with the consequences of global warming. We need to come forward to save ‘Abode of the Gods’.