Uncertainty persists in Joshimath as residents await permanent rehabilitation

It has been more than a month since Bharti Devi left her home which was damaged due to cracks after the soil began sinking in Joshimath in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand

Uncertainty persists in Joshimath as residents await permanent rehabilitation


It has been more than a month since Bharti Devi left her home which was damaged due to cracks after the soil began sinking in Joshimath in Chamoli district of Uttarakhand.

Now the septuagenarian spends half her day near her now-abandoned home which she misses regularly and other half at the sub-divisional office, hoping to receive some positive news about their permanent rehabilitation.

Bharti Devi is currently living in a temporary relief camp at an abandoned army barrack. She was among the first families of Joshimath whose houses became uninhabitable after the land-subsidence situation began aggravating. "The land beneath our home began to sink on January 2 and by the very next day our house had become uninhabitable. All this happened suddenly," she said.

"We and nearly half a dozen neighbouring families picked up whatever we could from our homes and took refuge in a nearby school which was closed at that time. But now it has been opened and we have been ousted from there as well," she added.

Each night weighs heavy on her as she struggles to sleep.

The future seems uncertain for the people of Joshimath whose lives continues to reel under the impact of land subsidence that hit this city tucked away in the mountains more than a month ago.

Still awaiting permanent rehabilitation, many residents who were using a primary school in Singhdhar ward as a temporary shelter had to move to an abandoned army barracks after the school was reopened.

They fear that with the arrival of pilgrims for the Char Dham yatra in April and May, they will be deprived of even this accommodation.

Bharti Devi's family is among the oldest residents of the Singdhar ward. "Our ancestors settled here soon after Joshimath came into existence. The settlement in this area is almost as old as them," she said pointing towards three ancient streams flowing near her erstwhile home. Since February 1, these families are living in the deserted army barracks in the same ward. Another resident in his 70s, Shivlal lived next to Devi. While his house, perched precariously on a rock with cracks, is not as ramshackle as hers, the fields below have developed huge cracks.

Shivlal spends the nights in the army barracks and strolls around his old house during the day.

His wife Vishweshwari Devi also accompanies him to their damaged house to look after their cattle.

"How can we be secure if our cows are not. We don't just need a home for ourselves but also a shelter for our cattle," she said.

"We can not go away from here until we are sure that our cattles are safe," she added. The fields in which Shivlal and his wife grew crops are sliding towards river Alaknanda. The disaster has not just ruined their home but also adversely impacted cattle rearing and farming which was their means of livelihood.

Pointing towards her fields full of crevices and cracks, Vishweshwari despairingly asked, "Can anything be sown into them?" She said her husband used to be a cheerful person but the disaster has changed him. He is often silently roaming around his damaged house worrying about the future of his dead son's children. Pushkar Singh Bisht, who retired from the army two and a half decades ago is also staying with his eight family members in a temporary relief camp.

He had built a house in Singhdhar ward after retirement which was big enough to accommodate seven average size families together. However, it was declared unsafe on January 3 following which they had to move out. "We somehow spent a month but what will happen to us now is a question constantly gnawing at me," said Bisht.

"Schools of our grand children have opened after the winter break adding to our trouble," he says. The marathon begins at daybreak with these kids queueing up outside the washrooms of the camps waiting for their turn to get ready for school, he said, adding that preparing their tiffin boxes for school and having to live in a single room is difficult.

"Our life has come to a standstill," Bisht's daughter-in-law Arti Bisht said.

Total 26 families have been kept in the Sanskrit Mahavidyalaya building. "What will happen to us nobody knows nor is anyone telling us. The Mahavidyalaya is also opening in the next few days. Students will return from vacation and we will have to leave this place too," Deveshwari Devi said.

How long will this shelter hopping go on, she asked. Rajni Devi's house was also declared unsafe on January 3, following which she along with her family shifted to her mother's home in Ganeshpur about 10 km from here.

They visit their home in Joshimath every day and leave for Ganeshpur in the evening.

"Our house has not yet fallen down but the cracks in the fields below it have widened. Whether it will continue to stand will be known only after the monsoon," she said. Her son who is a Bachelor of Technology (BTech) in mechanical engineering said if new constructions in Joshimath were not allowed considering its feeble foundations, the situation would not have been as bad as now. "Just as the relief camps in schools were removed after they reopened, so would the makeshift shelters in hotels when there is a rush of pilgrims after the yatra to Badrinath begins," Rajni Devi said.

We preferred to shift to my mother's place in Ganeshpur because we foresaw this problem," she added. It has been more than a month since the crisis struck Joshimath but the state government is yet to announce a concrete rehabilitation or resettlement plan, all the affected families echoed the same concern. The indecisiveness on the part of the state government worries them. "The urgency that could be seen in the government's approach in the first week of January is no longer there. With the media leaving the affected areas, the administrative machinery also appears to be slowing down," Pushkar Singh, another resident currently living in a camp, said.

Anil Namboori (52) who is staying with his family in a nearby hotel after his three-story house in Narsingh ward was declared unsafe on January 15 said, "Whatever is to be done should be done quickly." Joshimath District Magistrate Himanshu Khurana has recommended three options to a high powered state level committee for the permanent settlement of Joshimath residents, but the formulae can be implemented only after the state cabinet approves it and the affected residents of the town are okay with it. 

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