Joshimath: Demolition drive & evacuations continue amid subsidence concerns

Officials from the state disaster management department in Joshimath have identified around 1,000 residential and commercial structures as high-risk due to subsidence

Indian authorities have evacuated hundreds of people from their homes in a northern Himalayan town. (photo: DW)
Indian authorities have evacuated hundreds of people from their homes in a northern Himalayan town. (photo: DW)
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NH Digital

In an urgent response to the looming threat posed by shifting soil, authorities in Joshimath, a north Indian town in Uttarakhand, have initiated the demolition of buildings showing signs of cracking, as per media reports. This crisis has necessitated the evacuation of hundreds of residents to ensure their safety.

The town, perched at an elevation of 1,890 meters (6,200 feet) above sea level, is facing a critical situation that prompted the division of its 25,000 residents into "danger," "buffer," and "completely safe" zones, reported Al Jazeera.

A staggering total of 678 buildings in Joshimath have developed cracks, raising concerns about the safety of the town's infrastructure, the report added.

Popularly known as a gateway to Hindu and Sikh shrines and a trekking destination in the Himalayas, Joshimath also holds strategic importance due to its proximity to the border with China.

“It seems 30 per cent of Joshimath is affected. A report is being compiled by an expert committee and it would be submitted to the Prime Minister’s Office,” Al Jazeera quoted an official.

The district magistrate of Chamoli, Himanshu Khurana, assured that basic facilities in relief camps are under constant inspection, with all possible help extended to the affected people.

As per Al Jazeera, local experts and residents have long warned about the potential consequences of large-scale construction work in and around Joshimath, particularly associated with power projects like the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC). However, NTPC, India's largest power producer, denies responsibility for the cracks, emphasising that its tunnelling work was suspended over two years ago.

The ongoing crisis has led to the suspension of work on border road projects and NTPC's Tapovan Vishnugad 520-megawatt hydropower plant, according to statements recorded by Reuters news agency.

The decision to demolish unsafe buildings is based on recommendations from federal experts, with six structures across four wards identified as very unsafe, reports Reuters news agency.

In parallel to Al Jazeera's account, TOI reports that officials from the state disaster management department in Joshimath have identified around 1,000 residential and commercial structures as high-risk due to subsidence.

These structures, predominantly residential, are concentrated in the town's four municipal wards, Manohar Bagh, Sunil, Marwari, and Singdhar, which witnessed extensive displacement of residents following vertical land sinking in January 2023, as per the TOI report.

Meanwhile, Ranjit Kumar Sinha, secretary, Disaster Management told reporters that "an amount of Rs 3.62 crore has been distributed to 242 affected families as interim relief so far" as per PTI.

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