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Joshimath crisis linked to infra projects in Uttarakhand: Activists

There is a clear link between developmental projects and the land subsidence crisis in the Himalayan town of Joshimath in Uttarakhand that displaced hundreds of families, environmentalists and civil society activists claimed on Tuesday, even as an interim report by an expert panel constituted by the central government is yet to be made public.

A resident shows multiple cracks in the walls of his house in Joshimath. (AP Photo)

The claims were made by several experts and activists at a virtual meeting organised by Ludhiana-based Campaign to Defend Nature and People, a non-profit led by Jagmohan Singh, nephew of freedom fighter Bhagat Singh.

“A series of development projects including rampant tourism-related multi-storied buildings, highway widening and other construction for the Char Dham Project, and a 520 MW mega hydropower dam were undertaken in and around the town,” they said in a joint statement after the meeting. “The Tapovan Vishnugad project of NTPC involves the construction of a several kilometres-long underground tunnel in the wake of which severe damage to local geology, hydrology and landscape has been put on record.”

Such developmental projects have put ecologically sensitive areas of the country, including the Himalayas, on the edge, the statement said, calling for protests and critique of dilution of environmental norms and infrastructure building that are insensitive to local terrain and the people’s needs.

“In the light of the unfolding Joshimath tragedy, there is a need to take a broader look at “development”-induced disasters all over the country,” it added.

“The Tapovan Vishnugad project tunnel passes through the mountain on which Joshimath is located. Currently, there is also a small bypass of the main Badrinath highway called the Helang Marwari bypass being constructed along the base of the slope,” said Ravi Chopra, former chairman of the high-powered committee appointed by the Supreme Court to look into the Char Dham roads project.

Also Read:Uttarakhand govt sets aside 1,000 crore in budget for relief ops in Joshimath

“In 1976, the Mishra committee warned that the base of the mountain should be strengthened in view of continuous erosion by making walls. On the contrary, the base is being weakened by continuous blasting of rocks in order to build the bypass,” Chopra said. “The current disaster, scientific and technical papers and circumstantial evidence gives us enough evidence to believe that much of the current crisis can be traced to the Tapovan Vishnugad tunnel.”

“Joshimath is built on a pile of sediments. Underlying rocks have fissures and have been jointed. The soil has very limited load bearing capacities, not able to sustain big structures,” he pointed out. “The Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers are constantly eroding the base of the hill. These slopes are unstable and there are structural weaknesses. There are many human made factors leading up to the subsidence.”

“The government has appointed eight major agencies to study and recommend mitigation measures. The interim reports have been submitted, but people working on the reports are forbidden from revealing findings,” Chopra said.

The authorities seem to be focused on starting the char Dham pilgrimage in a month’s time but not on rehabilitation of the displaced people, or revealing the reasons behind the disaster, said Atul Sati, convener of the Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti.

“We have submitted interim reports. More issues are still being studied. Only the National Disaster Management Authority can speak on the findings,” said Kalachand Sain, director of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, one of the eight technical institutes studying the disaster.

HT tried to reach the National Disaster Management Authority for a response on the statement by the civil society groups, but did not receive one immediately.

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