Protecting Joshimath From Calamity
Banning of construction activities in certain areas of Joshimath, as suggested by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), appears to be inadequate to save the town from subsidence. The strategic town situated in the fragile Himalayan range requires drastic steps for it to be saved from the activities of mankind. According to reports prepared by various agencies, Joshimath exceeded its load capacity long ago and is sinking now as nearly 66 per cent of the houses in the town have been affected by land subsidence. Some parts of the town have sunk even more than three feet making these areas completely inhabitable or unsuitable for any kind of developmental activity. The Geological Survey of India (GSI) has found that cracks are still developing in the town, especially in areas where multi-storied buildings have been constructed. Furthermore, 1,100 landslides have taken place in Uttarakhand this year, in comparison to 354 and 245 landslides respectively in the years 2021 and 2022. The abnormal rise in the number of landslides in the state is clearly indicative of the fact that the Himalayan region is under much stress with a rising population and developmental works. For instance, the population in Joshimath has increased from 16,709 from 2011 to 25,000 at present, other than the increase in the numbers of pilgrims that visit the holy shrine Badrinath every year via this town. Moreover, a big army settlement is also in this town as it not far from the international border.
Considering the strategic importance of the place, there is need to plan a new disaster-resilient township in Joshimath without further delay. The load carrying capacity of this area must be carefully considered to prevent further sinking. If required, tall buildings in this town should be restricted and a strict norm put in place to limit the number of floors built. Similarly, the number of hotels and resorts which have come up in the town to facilitate the pilgrims should also be restricted. Many experts believe that mushrooming of such facilities has further aggravated the situation. At the same time, all plans to build hydro-electrical projects in the region should be re-examined before giving the final go ahead. Furthermore, the decision to construct the ambitious Char Dham road should also come under thorough scrutiny. Every apprehension must be addressed before taking a final decision on the future of Joshimath. Considering the gravity of the situation, it is clear that in-order to save Joshimath, a well thought out plan is required to ensure that subsidence does not occur again. But, it is easier said than done as a wrong step may derail the entire plan. To make the plan a success, developmental plans should be made in consultation with the local populace as they are more knowledgeable about the terrain than anyone else. A rehabilitation plan should also be made available to ensure safety and full recovery of those affected by calamities.