Why land is sinking in Joshimath? Explained in upsc perspective

Why land is sinking in Joshimath

Why land is sinking in Joshimath

Why land is sinking in Joshimath?_On October 2021 it Cracks initially discovered in a few buildings in Uttarakhand’s Joshimath town in October 2021. on January 11, 723 residences in all nine wards of the town had developed significant or small fissures in the floors, ceilings, and walls. Beams had become displaced in a number of houses. As a result, 145 households have been temporarily relocated to safer areas of town.

Joshimath, located at a height of 6,107 feet, is a major town in the Chamoli district. Despite having a population of of approximately 23,000 people, it has been highly developed, with hotels, resorts, and a busy market that serves mostly to tourists, pilgrims, trekkers, and army and Indo-Tibetan Border Police soldiers (ITBP).

Joshimath rose to prominence as a vital location following the 1962 India-China war. It connects settlements along the India-China border as well as Barahoti, a disputed area along the border. The town is also a gateway to pilgrimage sites such as Badrinath for Hindus and Hemkund Sahib for Sikhs; Auli, an international skiing destination; and the Valley of Flowers, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

Joshimath is now overburdened with constructions that were developed without consideration for the land’s load-bearing capabilities.

Joshimath location

Joshimath’s geographic location, along with the town’s uncontrolled and rampant building, has resulted in ground subsidence.

The first symptoms of sinking occurred in October 2021, when 14 households in the Chhawani Bazar neighbourhood noticed fractures in their homes. As a result, cracks continued to form across town, and residents were forced to make repairs.

The issue grew more concerning at the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023, when substantial portions of the town underwent unexpected land-sinking and some houses developed serious fractures.

Joshimath is constructed on the deposits of an ancient landslide, which implies that even minor triggers might destabilise the slopes. In India’s seismic zonation plan, the town is also in Zone V, which denotes the highest danger. It is located between two thrusts, the Main Central Thrust (MCT) and the Vaikrita Thrust (VT), and so has seismic activity.

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According to geologist Navin Juyal, who performed land subsidence study in the town in 2022, the area around Joshimath is particularly active in terms of slope mobility due to the MCT.

Joshimath is similarly vulnerable to severe weather. “From a climatological standpoint, Joshimath is located in a location that commonly experiences high-intensity, focused rainfall,” Juyal explained.

Joshimath is constructed on the deposits of an ancient landslide, which implies that even minor triggers might destabilise the slopes. In India’s seismic zonation plan, the town is also in Zone V, which denotes the highest danger. It is located between two thrusts, the Main Central Thrust (MCT) and the Vaikrita Thrust (VT), and so has seismic activity.

According to geologist Navin Juyal, who performed land subsidence study in the town in 2022, the area around Joshimath is particularly active in terms of slope mobility due to the MCT.

Joshimath is similarly vulnerable to severe weather. “From a climatological standpoint, Joshimath is located in a location that commonly experiences high-intensity, focused rainfall,” Juyal explained.

Because the hills are poorly balanced, he believes that heavy rains, for example, might cause landslides.

According to a study on Joshimath issued in September 2022 by the Uttarakhand State Disaster Management Authority (USDMA), floods in June 2013 and February 2021 exacerbated erosion in the region. It also noted that strong rains in October 2021 – 190 mm in 24 hours – exacerbated subsidence and landslide susceptibility.

Experts discovered ground subsidence in the area decades ago, and the Uttar Pradesh government (Uttarakhand was then a part of Uttar Pradesh) organised a commission chaired by M.C. Mishra to investigate its causes. The committee’s report of 1976 advised against extensive and unscientific building in the town, writing: “Joshimath is a deposit of sand and stone … thus was not a good area for the setting up of a township. Vibrations caused by blasts and high traffic will also cause a shift in natural variables.”

However, Joshimath continued to develop in the manner that the Mishra committee had cautioned against.

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Opinions from Local people

Locals attribute the Joshimath ground sinking here to NTPC’s 520-MW Tapovan Vishnugad hydropower project, which is now under construction nearby. On December 24, 2009, a tunnel boring machine ruptured an aquifer approximately 3 kilometres from Selang hamlet, which is roughly 5 kilometres from Joshimath. The tunnel is about a kilometre long and lies beneath Auli, near Joshimath. According to a 2010 article by researchers from Dehradun’s Uttarakhand Disaster Mitigation and Management Centre and Srinagar Garhwal’s Hemvati Nandan Bahuguna (HNB) Garhwal University, the puncture released water at a rate of 700-800 litres per second, enough to meet the needs of at least 2 million people every day.

“After the (2009) tragedy, local water supplies in our community started to dry up,” said.P. Dimri, a Joshimath resident.

Puran Billangwal, another Joshimath resident, stated that while the volume of discharge has decreased with time, it has not completely ceased.

Atul Sati, convener of the Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, which has been protesting against Joshimath-damaging projects since 2004 and is currently leading protests demanding adequate relief and rehabilitation for Joshimath residents whose houses have been damaged, believes that the water released in 2009 is a major contributor to the subsidence.

Furthermore, no scientific studies have been carried out to establish a link between the hole and the sinking in Joshimath. As a result, in a press statement issued on January 5, the NTPC denied any participation in the growing crisis.
Water tainted with sludge and harmful chemicals began to appear earlier this month in the town’s Marwari neighbourhood. “Several of us believe the water is from the February 7, 2021 deluge,” Sati continued, adding that the water has been sent to Dehradun for testing.

How Char Dham project impact

The Border Roads Organisation’s (BRO) 6-kilometer Helang-Marwari bypass is also being criticised for weakening slopes and further destabilising the local landscape. The bypass is part of the 825-kilometer Char Dham highway construction Project in Uttarakhand, which has already been criticised by experts for improper slope-cutting that has resulted in multiple landslides.

The geologist, Juyal, was a previous member of the High Powered Committee created by the Supreme Court to assess the project. He had suggested that the bypass be built only after a geotechnical feasibility assessment had been completed. According to him, the project was developed despite the warnings of a few committee members.

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Residents said that the BRO built the bypass with drills and explosives.

“Heavy building activity for the road is compromising the foundations on which Joshimath sits,” said Yaspal Sundriyal, a geologist at HNB Garhwal University who has researched ground subsidence in Joshimath. It may be damaging to the town’s survival.”

In a desperate attempt to reduce the sinking, the Chamoli district government temporarily suspended work on the bypass and the NTPC dam on 5th January.

Why is the land sinking in Joshimath
Photo source hindustantimes
Lack of drainage and wastewater disposal

Based on the 2022 USDMA report, a lack of drainage and wastewater disposal systems is also adding to the sinking problem. Sati claims that over 85% of the structures in town, even those owned by the army, are not connected to a sewage system and instead have soak pits.

According to the 1976 Mishra committee report, these flaws might cause “cavities between soil and stones,” as well as inadequate drainage, which could lead to landslides. Such holes, according to Sundriyal of Garhwal University, induce ground sinking.

Kavita Upadhyay is an independent journalist and researcher from Uttarakhand who has spent the last decade researching and writing about natural disasters in the region.

Joshimath is a major town in Chamoli district that is substantially developed, with hotels, resorts, and a bustling market that caters mostly to visitors, pilgrims, hikers, and army and Indo-Tibetan Border Police soldiers (ITBP).
Today, Joshimath is overburdened with structures erected without regard for the land’s load-bearing capability, just as the Mishra group recommended in a 1967 study.
The first symptoms of sinking came in October 2021, when fissures formed across town and citizens were forced to patch them. The issue grew more concerning at the end of 2022 and the beginning of 2023, when substantial portions of the town underwent unexpected land-sinking and some houses developed serious fractures.

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