Joshimath sinking: How man-made factors hurt a fragile ecosystem

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Joshimath, located on the Rishikesh-Badrinath National Highway (NH 7), is a popular overnight stop for visitors to the shrines of Badrinath and Hemkund Sahib, as well as the tourist destinations of Auli and the Valley of Flowers.

Joshimath is where Puran Singh was born. He was a young man in 1975. when the town first reported subsidence. He is now 76 years old and has witnessed years of unrestricted development that some experts blame for the town’s worst subsidence, which has caused mass hysteria and a mini-exodus of residents.

“In the 1960s, there were only 30 shops in town, and 400 families lived here. There are now over 4,300 structures on the fragile terrain, and the town has a population of over 25,000 people.

The burden on the town has grown over time, and it now threatens Joshimath’s very existence,” said Singh, who works in a small tailoring shop in Joshimath.

The town’s population estimates range from 20,000 to 25,000 people.

According to state government officials, the town has approximately 3800 residential structures and 400 commercial structures. Singh claims that most have risen in the last 20 years.

Standing near his shop in Joshimath’s main market, Singh points to Hotel Nanda Devi, one of the town’s oldest hotels, and says, “It used to be a single-story hotel. The hotel has become a ‘pahad’ (mountain). It is too late to save the town”.

During this time, several large infrastructure projects have built, including NTPC. A tunnel for the hydropower plant  dug beneath Joshimath Town. Some residents believe it is the cause of the town sinking. NTPC, on the other hand, has refuted the claim, claiming that the tunnel   carved using a tunnel boring machine (TRM) and that no underground blasting is taking place.

In a January 5 note, the company said: “NTPC  held responsible for the land subsidence problem in Joshi. In this regard, it is clarified that the tunnel built by NTPC doesn’t pass under Joshimath. The tunnel dug by a tunnel boring machine and no blasting  carried out presently.”

Atul Sati, a convener of the Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, said, “Locals expressed concern about the NTPC’s project and other unplanned infrastructure in and around three years ago but their appeals  ignored. Today’s tragedy is a result of that.”

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