After Joshimath, Land Subsidence in Jammu's Doda Forces Villagers to Scurry for Safety

The Nai Basti village in Thathri town was affected by massive land subsidence on Friday, prompting the district administration to shift 19 families to safe locations.

Srinagar: A hairline crack first appeared on Tariq Ahmad’s twin-storied house’s outer wall earlier this week. Ahmad ignored it, believing it to be the result of a recent earthquake. Two days later, the verandah attached to the house broke into two pieces, held together only by iron bars. Then, more houses in the neighbourhood started to crumble.

In a span of a few days, the land subsidence triggered by unknown reasons has put the entire village of Nai Basti in Thathri town of Jammu’s Doda district on the verge of destruction. Left with no choice, Ahmad and many other residents abandoned their homes. Some residents managed to retrieve precious belongings but not everyone has been lucky.

On the evening of Friday, February 3, Ahmad, a head constable in J&K Police who shifted to his brother’s house, was having tea. A phone call broke the tragic news – his home, the result of years of savings and hard work, had been reduced to a huge mound of debris.

Nai Basti is a small village of about 60-70 houses located on a hillock in Thathri town of Doda district. Photo: Special arrangement.

“I haven’t got the courage to go there,” Tariq told The Wire over the phone from his native village, his soft tone laden with grief and anguish. “I built that house with my life’s savings. The tragedy is that I have not only lost my home but also the land on which it was built. I don’t know how I am going to recover from this shock.”

Deputy Commissioner of Doda, V.P. Mahajan, said that the Nai Basti village was affected by massive land subsidence on Friday, prompting the district administration to shift 19 families to safe locations. He said that three houses have collapsed so far, while many others have developed cracks. The administration has also declared a religious school and a mosque in the area as unsafe.

“A team of the Geological Survey of India (GSI) has arrived in Doda and will carry out an assessment of the area on Saturday,” Mahajan told The Wire. Asked about the reason for the land subsidence, which has the people drawing parallels to the recent tragedy in another Himalayan town, Joshimath, Mahajan said: “It will be premature to make any comment until the GSI team submits its finding.”

Also Read: Band-Aid Solutions Will Not Prevent Future Joshimaths in the Himalayan Region

Are development projects responsible?  

Some 30 kilometres from Doda town, Nai Basti is a standalone village located on a hillock in Thathri town overseeing the Doda-Jammu highway and the Chenab river. A Srinagar-based environmentalist said that the Pir Panjal mountains, which separate Doda and other districts in the Jammu region from the Kashmir Valley, have become highly unstable due to dynamite blasts and hill cutting for building roads and power projects.

In its bid to improve connectivity, the J&K administration has taken up expansion work on National Highway 244 which connects Doda and Kishtwar districts in Jammu with the Anantnag district in south Kashmir. Some seven km away from Thathri, the government is in the midst of building the 850 MW Ratle hydropower project.

Several houses in the village have developed gaping cracks due to land subsidence, forcing the inhabitants to flee to safety. Photo: Special arrangement.

“So far there is no evidence to suggest that these projects are causing the land subsidence in Thathri, but it is a fact that the wanton destruction of mountains in the name of development has put thousands of people living in the mountainous districts of Pir Panjal and Chenab Valley at grave risk,” the environmentalist, who didn’t want to be named, told The Wire.

Syed Imran, a volunteer with Ababeel, a J&K-based non-profit working with the affected families, said that the complaints of land subsidence were doing rounds in Nai Basti village for the past two weeks. “But the situation turned ugly on Friday morning when many houses developed new cracks,” he said.

“If one looks carefully at the ground there, the land is slipping down the hill slowly and steadily, putting the entire locality at risk of extinction. We are working with the district administration and have provided food and blankets to the affected families,” Imran said.

While the administration is grappling to explain the cause of land subsidence, the prevailing uncertainty has triggered panic and anguish in the village. Farooq Ahmad, a father of three minor children whose single-storied house in Nai Basti has been declared unsafe, said that he shifted to his sister’s house along with his family on Friday morning after the crisis started to aggravate.

“A group of policemen came to our house and told us that it was no longer safe to live there. The land is sinking with every passing hour. A mosque next door to our house has developed big cracks and if something is not done immediately, I will lose my house too,” Farooq, a school-bus driver, said over the phone from Thathri.

Mohammad Sadiq, Sarpanch of Nai Basti, said that more than two dozen houses have developed cracks in the past 24 hours and there are fears that 60-80 houses might be affected by land subsidence. “A major land fissure which appeared in the upper area of Nai Basti is widening, putting hundreds of people at risk,” he said.

Also Read: ‘Save Raika’: Joshimath Sinking Prompts Climate Activists in Jammu To Intensify Campaign

Sub-divisional magistrate of Thathri, Athar Amin Zargar, said that the situation has stabilised after several houses developed cracks on Friday morning. “Initially, six houses developed cracks. On Thursday, 10 more houses were affected and another 21 were damaged on Friday. The affected land has become uninhabitable,” he said.

Imran, the volunteer, said that among the 19 families relocated by the administration, many have shifted to their relatives’ places who live in nearby localities, “But a majority of the affected people have nowhere to go and a government-run school has been turned into a makeshift accommodation for them for the time being,” he said.

An official in the Doda administration claimed that the affected area in Thathri was prone to land subsidence when it was uninhabited before the eruption of insurgency in J&K in the early 1990s, “Most of the residents have built their houses on the hillock in recent years because they fled from their native places in Pir Panjal region due to militancy. This may have caused land subsidence,” he said.

Deputy commissioner Mahajan said that the administration is keeping a round-the-clock vigil in the affected area. “The families hit by the tragedy will be provided compensation as per norms. But our first priority is to ensure that their basic needs are fulfilled and to determine the reason for land subsidence,” he said.