Joshimath 'Sinking': Residents Stage Protests Over Displacement, Govt Halts Construction Activities

About 570 houses in Joshimath developed cracks in recent days, apparently caused by climate and infrastructural changes.

New Delhi: After panic and protests among the residents of Joshimath, Uttarakhand that the town is “gradually sinking”, the Chamoli district administration on Thursday (January 5) stopped the widening of the Char Dham road between Helang and Marwari.

According to NDTV, about 570 houses in Joshimath developed cracks in recent days, apparently caused by climate and infrastructural changes. Just in the last 24 hours, Mint reported, nine families have been forced to leave their homes, including four from the Joshimath Municipal Corporation. A statement from the Chamoli administration on Thursday said that 38 families have been displaced so far.

Announcing the pausing of work on the road-widening project, ADM of Joshimath Abhishek Tripathi said in an order, according to the Times of India, “In the wake of the sinking of areas in Joshimath and in view of the present situation, the Helang bypass works under BRO (Border Roads Organisation) be stopped immediately. Under sections 33 and 34 of the Disaster Management Act, the directions are given until fresh orders.”

The district administration has also issued orders to the NTPC and Hindustan Construction Company to set up 2,000 pre-fabricated buildings to act as shelters for families as a precautionary measure, The Hindu reported.

Concerned as a result of the cracks and forced displacement, residents of Joshimath have come together under the banner of the Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti to protest and insist that both the government and companies operating in the area take the matter seriously. They staged a protest on the Badrinath national highway on Thursday, blocking traffic.

The Uttarakhand Chief Minister’s Office has sent a team of officials from the Disaster Management Department to take stock of the situation. Chief minister Pushkar Singh Dhami said, “I will be visiting Joshimath in the coming days and initiate steps to handle the situation. All the reports will be monitored and all the required steps will be taken. I have had a word with the Municipal Corporation chairman Shailendra Pawar.”

Residents believe that the government ignored warning signs in order to continue infrastructure development, as cracks first appeared in 2021, and now locals are paying the price for this negligence. “Why has the government now banned construction work when we are on the verge of sinking? Why didn’t they pay heed to us earlier?” asked JBSS convener Atul, according to The Hindu.

Deepa Devi, a member of Joshimath municipal board ward number 1, was quoted by Hindustan Times as saying, “The land is subsiding in my ward for the past one year and the sinking activity has increased due to the blasting done for the construction of the road resulting in widening of the cracks in the houses.”

According to a report in Down to Earth, experts believe the role of NTPC’s Tapovan-Vishnugad hydropower project and Helang bypass in the “sinking” of the town must be probed.