Why Joshimath is Sinking?

The anicient Uttarakhand town, Joshimath, popular as one of the most important religious places in the state is sinking. Several deep cracks have developed in the houses, fields and roadways causing fear among the residents. According to a report by Chamoli district administration, 561 buildings have developed cracks, two hotels have been closed and 38 families have been rehabilitated as of January, 05, 2023. In addition to this, several construction projects of NTPC related to hydro electric power generation, operation of Joshimath-Auli ropeway have been stopped.

Joshimath is not unknown to such cracks, landslides and earthquakes. In last 50-60 years, there were many instances of landslides, earthquakes, and cracks in buildlings in Joshimath. However, such incidents could not draw national attention. It was only in 2021 landslides, the issue was noticed at national level.

Why Joshimath is sinking?

The crisis in Joshimath is both natural and man made. The geography of entire state of Uttarakhand is fragile. And, Joshimath in particular is situated on old land deposits. So, there is always a risk of landslide in Joshimath. Due to this, every year, people of Joshimath notice cracks in their buildings and fields.

Joshimath is located on the top of Main Central Thrust (MCT) line and comes under earthquake zone IV. This means, it is among the most fragile and unstable areas of Himalayas.

What is Main Central Thrust Area?

In simplest terms, the MCT is a crack or geological fault in Himalayas. It is formed due to the collusion of Indo-Australian plate and Eurasian plate. The area underneath the MCT is particularly very fragile due to frequent tectonic activities. And, therefore, seismic activities are very common in MCT areas. The MCT extends for over 2200 km across the Himalayas in northwest-southeast direction. Joshimath is located above the MCT.

Man made causes

While natural causes are obvious for the sinking of Joshimath, there are many human activities that have changed the balance of the Joshimath. The change in landuse, new hydro power projects, deforestation, highways, ropeways and rapid urbanisation of the area are major activities that have expedited the sinking of Joshimath.

An 18 member committed led by MC Mishra in 1976 had earlier pointedly warned against the stability of the Joshimath. The report by MC Mishra committee recommended planting of trees and planning the development keeping in view the frgaile nature of the land. It advised against the removing of boulders, digging and blasting the hill area. It noted that Joshimath lies on an ‘ancient landslide’ and thus heavy construction activities must be avoided in the region.

This report however remained only a report on paper as the governments failed to take a note of it despite continues signals of landslides. The Char Dham connectivey project, NTPC Tapovan Vishnugad hydropower project, and Joshimath-Auli ropeway are some of the major projects that have been undertaken by the government in recent times.