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Uttrakhand: Families Evacuated as Houses Develop Cracks in Joshimath

This comes after residents have repeatedly complained of cracks in their houses due to continued land subsidence. One report mentions that at least 570 houses are affected due to cracks.

Image Courtesy: The Hindu

New Delhi: Dozens of families in Uttarakhand's Joshimath had to be shifted out of their houses after they heard alarming sounds from beneath the surface of the ground on December 2, around midnight.

The authorities told the media that the families were shifted to safe locations due to the unusable condition of their houses. They are being provided temporary accommodation at a night shelter and a government-run school.

One resident told Times of India that, "horrifying sounds could be heard coming from beneath the surface of the earth on Monday night and more around midnight. We ran out of our houses and stayed in the open."

This comes after residents have repeatedly complained of cracks in their houses due to continued land subsidence. One report mentions that at least 570 houses are affected due to cracks.

Joshimath, with a population of around 25,000, is located at over 6,000 feet in Chamoli district. A part of the Garhwal Himalayas, "it is widely regarded as a gateway to Badrinath and Hemkund Sahib, skiing destination Auli and Unesco World Heritage site Valley of Flowers."

The story of the cracks goes as far back as two decades. However, in recent years, the occurrence of cracks has rapidly increased. Thakur Singh Rana, a 63-year-old former block president told ToI that around 500 houses have seen cracks in the last two years. The cracks have only widened since the Raini disaster of October 2021, according to Rana.

People of Joshimath also complain that the construction activities have not stopped despite the alarming situation. The newly-constructed buildings are highly unstable in some parts of the town.

"I built my new house just 8-9 months ago. Now, two of the rooms are unusable as the floors have caved in and the walls have developed large diagonal fissures," one resident told ToI.

As per the news report, various studies had predicted that such a situation could develop if boulders in the town were removed by digging or blasting the hillside. One such report from the Mishra committee was produced as early as 1976.

After pleas by locals, an independent committee was formed as recently as 2021. Submitting its report in June 2021 after surveying the area, the committee had alerted that the town would sink if further excavation works were carried out. Following that, a multi-institutional team, constituted by Uttrakhand State Disaster Management Authority to carry out geological and geotechnical surveys, also confirmed that the town is "built on an unstable foundation- a thick cover of landslide material - which can give way in case of heavy rain, tremors, unregulated construction or more footfall."

Locals have organised themselves under the banner of Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti (JBSS); they took a rally on Wednesday, "seeking permanent rehabilitation and a stop to works being carried out by NTPC until a technical team does a detailed study on why Joshimath is sinking and what can be done about it."

"We have been demanding our immediate rehabilitation for a year, but we are not being heard," said Atul Sati, convener, JBSS. "Joshimath's base is sinking... People are supporting their houses with bamboo poles and covering the chinks with rags. But the state government is unfazed."

Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami is expected to visit the town to get a view of the issue.

"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," Dhami said.

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