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Joshimath collapses

Joshimath: A tragedy foretold

Published : Jan 26, 2023 10:45 IST

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Joshimath: A tragedy foretold

Cracks in the road leading to the main market of Joshimath, on January 21.

Cracks in the road leading to the main market of Joshimath, on January 21. | Photo Credit: PTI

In the midst of the current crisis, the Congress and the BJP are blaming each other.

By the 1970s, the sinking of Joshimath town and frequent landslides were already a reality. The government established an 18-member committee in 1976, one of the first major ones of its kind, chaired by the then Commissioner of Garhwal Mandal, Mahesh Chandra Mishra.

The Mishra committee clearly warned that the town of Joshimath was “geologically unstable”. It suggested several restrictions and remedial measures to protect the town, including the limiting of heavy construction, cultivation on slopes, and tree cutting. It recommended a proper drainage system to reduce rainwater seepage, a proper sewage system, and placing cement blocks on riverbanks to prevent erosion.

The committee found that the area’s geological instability was the reason for landslides, road breaches, and localised land subsidence. It found that the rise in population and construction activity had resulted in significant biotic disruption. It pointed out that vibrations caused by blasting and excessive traffic could in future disturb the equilibrium further.

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The report said: “The location of cultivated area on slopes will give rise to landslides. Weathering will also have adverse effects because of the wear and tear of bare rocks, undercutting by river currents of Alaknanda and Dhauliganga are also playing their part in bringing landslides.” It added that both rain and melting snow cause hillwash and water percolation, which dislodges the rocks.

According to the report, after 1962, a significant number of construction projects were undertaken in the region without systematic drainage facilities, which caused water to percolate, thus resulting in landslides.

Mercilessly destroyed

Other probable causes for the fragility, it said, could be the natural angle of repose and the fact that fields and homes were located on old landslide debris intermixed with glacial material, which was further weathered and undercut by streams. “It may also be due to the formation of big fissure plane and movement along this plane.”

According to report, “Natural forest cover in the Joshimath area has been mercilessly destroyed by a number of agencies. The rocky slope is bare and treeless. The absence of trees results in soil erosion and landslides. There is nothing to hold the detaching boulders. Landslides and slips are the natural outcomes.”

In the midst of Joshimath’s current crisis, the Congress and the BJP are blaming each other for not implementing the report’s recommendations. While the BJP is currently in power in the State, the Congress ruled the then undivided Uttar Pradesh.

(This story was published in the print edition of Frontline magazine dated Feb 10, 2023.)

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