Joshimath Land Subsidence

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    • The subsidence (ground sinking) in Joshimath (at an altitude of over 6,000 feet) in Uttarakhand has delivered stern warning for the State’s administration.

     

    Key Points

    • About Joshimath Sinking:
      • In 2021, Joshimath was struck in the aftermath of a deluge in the Rishiganga and Dhauliganga rivers. 
      • This event is what experts are now suggesting likely triggered the current “sinking and cracking”. 
      • Later that year, Joshimath was battered by a torrential downpour of over 190 mm. 
      • Following the rains, residents noticed a movement in the cracks and more frighteningly, new cracks as well, with several cropping up inside homes.
    • Impacts:
      • At least 66 families have fled the town while 561 houses have reported cracks. 
      • A government official said that over 3000 people have been affected so far.

    Land Subsidence

    • According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), subsidence is the “sinking of the ground because of underground material movement”. 
    • It can happen for a host of reasons, man-made or natural, such as the removal of water, oil, or natural resources, along with mining activities. 
    • Earthquakes, soil erosion, and soil compaction are also some of the well-known causes of subsidence.
    • The NOAA also mentions that this phenomenon can “happen over very large areas like whole states or provinces, or very small areas like the corner of your yard.”

     

    Reasons for Joshimath’s Land Subsidence

    • Incredibly Fragile Ecology:
      • Joshimath city has been built on an ancient landslide material — meaning it rests on a deposit of sand and stone, not rock, which doesn’t have high load-bearing capacity. 
      • This makes the area extremely vulnerable to ever-burgeoning infrastructure and population.
    • Blatant Ignorance: 
      • The current developments in Joshimath are a combination of ignorance and apathy. 
    • Unplanned Urbanisation:
      • The unplanned and unauthorised construction has led to the blocking of the natural flow of water, which eventually results in frequent landslides.
    • Natural calamities: 
      • The area is a seismic zone, which makes it prone to frequent earthquakes.
      • The region also faces frequent natural calamities such as landslides and flash floods. 
    • Ignored the Recommendations of Mishra Committee Report (conducted in 1976):
      • The Committee had concluded in its report that the land upon which the town is founded is, in fact, a deposit of sand and stone, the remnants of an ancient landslide. 
      • The town is not actually built on the “main rock” of the mountain. 
      • The report also pointed out that undercutting by the currents of the Alaknanda river makes the area even more prone to disasters
    • Hydel Projects:
      • The construction of the 520 MW NTPC Tapovan Vishnugad Hydro Power plant has perhaps done more damage to Joshimath’s foundations than anything else. 
      • The project being constructed on the Dhauliganga river required a tunnel to be built that cut right through the mountain upon which Joshimath is located. 
    • Land Erosion: 
      • Due to the running streams from Vishnuprayag and sliding along the natural streams are the other reasons behind the city’s fate.
    • Poor Drainage System:
      • The lack of a proper drainage system might have also contributed to the sinking of the area.
    • Geographic fault:
      • It might have been triggered by the reactivation of a geographic fault — defined as a fracture or zone of fractures between two blocks of rock — where the Indian Plate has pushed under the Eurasian Plate along the Himalayas.

     

    Suggestions 

    • Prohibition of Major Constructions:
      • Experts recommend a complete shutdown of development and hydroelectric projects in the region. 
      • Construction of the NTPC Hydro Power plant and along the Helang Bypass has ceased till further orders.
    • Rigorous Replantation:
      • Experts have also suggested replantation in the region, especially at the vulnerable sites to retain soil capacity. 
    • Redevelopment of Drainage System:
      • Drainage planning is one of the biggest factors that needs to be studied and redeveloped. 
      • The state government needs to look into the issue and create a new plan for the drainage system.
    • Evacuation of People:
      • The government has to put in an order evacuation plans for 4,000 prefabricated homes to help the residents of Joshimath.
      • The government must build resilience in the vulnerable areas through improved early warning systems, better construction quality etc.
    • Coordination Amongst Organizations:
      • There is a need for a coordinated effort between the government and civil bodies with the aid of military organizations to save Joshimath.
    • Studies by Technical Resources:
      • Technical resources from nearby areas need to be summoned to Joshimath to find a solution. 
      • The state government also needs to take scientific studies more seriously, which clearly spell out the reasons for the current crisis.

    Source: IE