Joshimath, a gateway town to Himalayas is sinking, 600 families told to evacuate

Malari Inn (left) sinks in its place on Badrinath National Highway, in Joshimath on Friday. Photo: PTI

Dehradun: Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami on Friday ordered immediate evacuation of around 600 families living in houses which have developed huge cracks and are at risk in Joshimath town which is sinking.

The town Joshimath is the last border town of strategic, religious, and tourist importance en route to the Himalayas.

On Friday, a temple collapsed in Singdhar ward of Joshimath further alarming residents. Luckily there was no one inside the temple when it collapsed as it had been abandoned after it developed huge cracks over the past 15 days, locals said.

Water oozes out after cracks appeared in the houses due to landslides at Vishnupuram Marwari Colony in the Joshimath of Uttarakhand on Friday. Photo: PTI

Huge cracks have appeared in scores of houses while many have suffered subsidence.

"We have been demanding our immediate rehabilitation for a year but we are not being heard," convenor of Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti Atul Sati said.

"Joshimath's base is sinking. Cracks have appeared in over 500 houses. People are supporting their houses with bamboo poles and covering the chinks with rags," he said the other day before adding that the an earthquake could cause grave damage to life and property.

A team of experts has also conducted a survey of the town and found that it is gradually sinking with huge cracks appearing in a large number of houses.

Cracks appear on the roads due to landslides at the Joshimath of Chamoli district of Uttarakhand on Friday. Photo: PTI

'Saving lives is priority'
"Saving lives is our first priority. Officials have been asked to shift around 600 families living in endangered houses in Joshimath to safe locations," Dhami told reporters here after reviewing the situation in the sinking town with officials via video conference.

"We are also working on short and long term plans to address the situation in Joshimath," he said.

The chief minister will visit Joshimath on Saturday, meet the affected people and hold a meeting with officials.

Garhwal Commissioner Sushil Kumar and secretary disaster management Ranjit Kumar Sinha along with a team of experts are camping on the ground to constantly monitor the situation, Dhami said.

Relocation of people in affected areas should be done expeditiously, he told the officials.

Cracks appear in a badminton court due to landslides in the Joshimath of Uttarakhand on Friday. Photo: PTI

Medical treatment facilities should be available on ground and arrangements for airlifting people should also be made, he said.

An immediate action plan as well as a long term action plan should be prepared and work on both should be started in right earnest, Dhami said.

"Joshimath should be divided into sectors and zones and action should be taken accordingly. A disaster control room should also be set up in the town," the chief minister said.

For permanent rehabilitation of affected people, alternative locations should be identified in Pipalkoti, Gauchar and other places, he said.

Landslide in the Joshimath of Chamoli district of Uttarakhand. Photo: PTI

Anthropogenic and natural factors
A variety of factors both anthropogenic and natural have led to the subsidence of Joshimath, director of the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology Kalachand Sain said on Friday.

The factors are not recent, they have built up over a long period of time, he said.

The three principal factors are Joshimath's vulnerable foundations as it was developed on the debris of a landslide triggered by an earthquake more than a century ago, its location in seismic zone V which is more prone to earthquakes besides gradual weathering and water percolation which reduce the cohesive strength of the rocks over time, Sain said.

Atkins had first written about Joshimath's location on landslide debris in the Himalayan Gazetteer in 1886. Even the Mishra Committee in its report in 1976 had written about its location on an old subsidence zone, he said.

The going down of the Himalayan rivers and heavy rainfall which is characteristic of the area beside the flashfloods in Rishiganga and Dhauliganga rivers last year may also have worsened the situation, he said.

As Joshimath is the gateway to Badrinath, Hemkund Sahib and skiing destination Auli haphazard construction activities have been going on in the area for a long time without thinking about the pressure the town is capable of coping with, he said, adding this may also have led to cracks appearing in the houses there.

"Hotels and restaurants have mushroomed everywhere. The pressure of population and the size of the crowd of tourists has also increased manifold," he said.

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