Missed warnings on Joshimath: A timeline

A compilation of the many studies done over the years, and how they were all ignored.

Published : Jan 26, 2023 10:45 IST

Workers inside the NTPC tunnel, at Helang near Joshimath on January 17, 2023.

Workers inside the NTPC tunnel, at Helang near Joshimath on January 17, 2023. | Photo Credit: Ayush Sharma/ANI

1976: The Mahesh Chandra Mishra committee says that construction in and around Joshimath must be limited and monitored as the area is located on a moraine and vulnerable to subsidence. Its recommendations include preventing construction on unsafe areas, ensuring proper drainage, reforestation, and reinforcements near river banks to prevent erosion.

2006: The Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology publishes a report revealing that some parts of Joshimath were “sliding by 1 cm every year”.

2007: A study conducted by professors from the Indian Institute of Remote Sensing, Dehradun, and Tribhuvan University, Nepal, states: “Joshimath town as well as AT Nala and Marwari villages are some of the most hazardous places in the (landslide) study area.”

2010: An article by M.P.S. Bisht and Piyoosh Routela from Garhwal University published in Current Science states: “Being situated in close proximity of tectonic discontinuities, Joshimath has been showing signs of distress due to the burgeoning anthropogenic pressure.” It adds: “The sudden and large-scale dewatering has the potential of initiating ground subsidence.”

2014: After the 2013 Uttarakhand floods, the Supreme Court appoints an expert body whose report concludes that hydropower projects played a significant role in the disaster, calls for the urgent improvement of environmental governance, and recommends that at least 23 hydropower projects be dropped.

2019: The government sets up a high-powered committee to evaluate the Char Dham Road Project to widen roads up to 10 metres to improve accessibility to Yamunotri, Gangotri, Badrinath, and Kedarnath. Committee chairman Ravi Chopra resigns in 2022, stating that the government is ignoring recommendations.

2022: A paper by a team of experts from IIT-Roorkee; Geological Survey of India; Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, Dehradun; Central Building Research Institute, Roorkee; and Uttarakhand Disaster Management Authority says: “In addition to the environmental conditions, road construction and widening have contributed to new landslides….” It blames unscientific tourist activity, “particularly resorts that have mushroomed along the Joshimath-Auli road” and recommends enhancing drainage facilities and controlling erosion along the Alaknanda north of Joshimath.

2023: The government commissions ISRO’s National Remote Sensing Centre to investigate the extensive damage in Joshimath. A preliminary report says: “While slow subsidence up to 9 cm within the town was recorded over seven months since April 2022, Cartosat-2S satellite data acquired by ISRO found the area sunk by around 5 cm in just 12 days since December 27.” The report has since been taken down from the public domain. On January 8, the PMO said that engineers and scientists have been asked to study short-, medium-, and long-term plans for Joshimath. On January 14, the National Disaster Management Authority directed organisations associated with data collection in Joshimath not to interact with the media.

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