Homes in subsidence-hit Indian town of Joshimath declared unsafe

Residents forced to sleep outdoors in winter cold for fear their homes might collapse on them

Hundreds of homes in Joshimath have been declared unsafe because of cracks caused by land subsidence. AFP
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The Indian Himalayan town of Joshimath was declared a disaster-prone area on Monday as dozens of families were shifted to temporary shelters after land subsidence caused large cracks to open in homes and buildings.

Cracks began to appear in buildings and roads in Joshimath months ago but have widened at an alarming rate in recent days. Out of 4,500 buildings in the town, more than 600 are damaged. Many of them are oozing brown muddy water.

Authorities have declared 229 homes unfit for living and moved nearly 70 families to shelters overnight.

Some residents in the town of about 20,000 people have been spending nights outdoors despite winter temperatures of about 4°C, for fear their homes may collapse on them in their sleep.

Joshimath lies at an altitude of 2,000 metres in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand and is on the route to many popular Hindu pilgrimage sites in the mountainous state.

Himanshu Khurana, the district’s top official, said government experts would visit Joshimath on Monday to assess the problem.

“Two teams from the central government are arriving here for a survey of the prevailing sinking condition,” Mr Khurana said.

A Joshimath resident shows a crack on the wall of his house. AFP

The prime minister’s office called a meeting on Sunday to discuss the situation in Joshimath and advised the state government to “establish a clear and continuous communication channel with the residents”.

The central government said people's safety was the immediate priority and asked experts to prepare short and long-term conservation and rehabilitation plans.

Joshimath residents have blamed the construction of the Tapovan-Vishnugad hydroelectric project in the area for the land subsidence.

Last February a glacier burst caused a deadly flash flood in the region. As many as 200 people were killed, including 80 who were trapped in a tunnel that was under construction.

“We had been asking the authorities to stop the construction of the tunnel. Ever since they started the digging, the cracks started,” resident Harendra Rana told The National.

India's National Thermal Power Corporation, which is developing the project, denies causing the subsidence.

“The tunnel built by NTPC does not pass under Joshimath town. This tunnel is dug by a tunnel-boring machine and no blasting is being carried out presently,” it said.

A Hindu religious leader, Swami Avimukteshwaranand Saraswati, has asked the Supreme Court to declare the situation in Joshimath a national disaster and to order financial assistance to the residents.

His plea has been listed for hearing on Tuesday.

Updated: January 09, 2023, 9:35 AM