Recently people in Joshimath, Uttarakhand are suffering greatly as a result
of cracks that have been made in the ground, on the roadways, and on the walls.
People have been moved to makeshift shelters. According to reports, there are
cracks in over 50 homes in Bahuguna Nagar. These homes walls have also begun to
crack due to land subsidence, and Joshimath's walls have also begun to do so,
leaving the residents terrified and in the dark.
Joshimath, often referred to as Jyotirmath, is a municipality and a city in the
Chamoli District of the Garhwal district of Uttarakhand. Joshimath is a
significant Hindu pilgrimage site and is close to one of the four "maths" Adi
Guru Shri Shankaracharya established in the eighth century. At a height of 6150
feet, it serves as a starting point for numerous Himalayan mountain climbing
adventures, trekking routes, and pilgrimage sites like Badrinath and Kedarnath.
Joshimath is ecologically sensitive because it was established on the site of a
long-ago landslide. It was never very strong while supporting weight. The
current issue is a result of the development of highways, tunnels, and dams
without proper planning.
Historical Chains Of Events And NDMA's Role
In Joshimath, cracks first appeared in the structures in the 1960s. That was the
first indication that Joshimath's mountains were developing fissures, which were
thought could be dangerous for the locals. The situation quickly got worse to
the point where the then-government of Uttar Pradesh formed the Mishra
Committee, to investigate the causes of the town's sinking.
Mishra Committee Report
A committee was established to look into what caused the landslides and the
sinking of Joshimath town, and Mahesh Chandra Mishra, the then-Commissioner of
Garhwal Mandal, served as its chairman. It recommended limitations on heavy
construction activity, cultivation on slopes, tree removal, the installation of
pucca drainage to reduce rainwater seepage, avoiding excavating at slopes and
gathering building supplies in a five-kilometer radius, and forbidding tree
cutting to prevent landslides in its report dated May 7, 1976.
However, the building of highways, dams, tunnels, and multistory structures went
ahead as planned despite these recommendations. The current state of affairs is
so dire that Joshimath's very survival is in jeopardy.
A landslide that happened on February 7, 2021, at around 1000 hours in the upper
watershed of the Rishiganga River, an Alaknanda River tributary in the Chamoli
District of Uttarakhand, caused a dramatic surge in the Rishiganga River's water
level. A 13.2 MW Rishiganga small hydro project that was in operation was
destroyed by a flash flood brought on by the Rishiganga's rising water levels.
The 520 MW NTPC Hydro Power Project, which is being built downstream at Tapovan
on the river Dhauli Ganga, was also impacted by the flash flood.
The National Thermal Power Corporation Limited was undertaking the
run-of-the-river Tapovan-Vishnugad hydropower project, which requires building a
tunnel over 12 km long under a hillside and using the water of the Dhauli Ganga
river to channel through the tunnel to generate energy. The mountain through
which the city of Joshimath is located also houses this tunnel. In 2021, more
than 200 laborers who were working in this tunnel lost their lives.
According to a report by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)
looking at the effects of the 2021 Chamoli disaster, the government may need to
look into alternative energy sources in the long run rather than relying on
hydropower from Uttarakhand.
On January 5, National Thermal Power Corporation Limited was eager to emphasize
that the accident should not be attributed to its tunnel because it did not pass
beneath Joshimath. However, it does go through the identical aquifer that is
2005 Mumbai Floods
The 2005 Maharashtra floods refer to widespread flooding throughout Maharashtra,
including extensive flooding in Mumbai, a major city on the Arabian Sea coast.
In Mumbai, it rains on average 242.42mm. The 994 mm of rainfall, the highest
amount recorded for 24 hours, caused the floods. Mumbai's stormwater drainage
system was installed in the early 20th century, however, it can barely move 25
mm of water per hour. Only 3 of the outfalls (routes to the sea) have
floodgates; the other 102 open directly into the water. UK-based experts that
BMC contracted to conduct the study recommended a project estimated at Rs. 600
The project, which was slated for completion in 2002, aims to improve the
drainage system by installing stormwater pipes and drains with larger diameters,
adding pumps where necessary, and clearing encroachments. Buildings were being
constructed in Mumbai's northern suburbs haphazardly and without enough
planning. The drainage plans in the northern suburbs were drawn up if and when
they were needed in a specific location, not from an overall perspective.
NDMA and its relevance to the event
The National Disaster Management Authority or NDMA is an apex body of the Indian
government with the responsibility of formulating disaster management policy. It
was first recommended following the Gujarat earthquake of January 26, 2001.
After the tsunami of Dec 26, 2004, calls for a national body equipped to act in
times of disaster became more strident. The Disaster Management Act was passed
on December 23, 2005, by the Indian government and created the NDMA.
To guarantee a comprehensive and decentralized approach to disaster management,
the NDMA is responsible for developing policies, establishing guidelines, and
best practices for working with the State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMAs).
It is presided over by the Prime Minister of India and has a maximum of nine
Functions And Responsibilities
Establish disaster management policies and rules that the various Ministries or
Departments of the Government of India must adhere to incorporate disaster
mitigation or disaster preventive strategies into their development plans and
initiatives. Approve plans created by Indian Government Ministries or
Departments in conformity with the National Plan. Coordinate the application of
the disaster management strategy and its regulations. Support those nations in
need as selected by the central government who have just experienced
Take any additional steps it deems essential for disaster mitigation, disaster
preparedness, or disaster prevention. Set general principles and rules for how
the National Institute of Disaster Management should operate.
Scientists in India have been instructed not to discuss any information about
the Himalayan volcano sinking with the media or on social media. Scientific
institutes throughout the nation have been instructed not to share any
information on the occurrence by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)
A strong planning process is needed before any development projects were taken
up in such fragile ecosystems. Over the years, we will likely experience a
significant loss in both financial resources and human life as a result of the
disaster management act's improper implementation.
Any region that wants to expand economically needs to build roads and other
infrastructure, but the development must take into account the territory's
geographic location and the potential of its resources. Nature must be revered
since human survival depends on keeping it healthy and sustainable. Things
cannot persist for long if the scales are tipped to favor rapid development and
advancement. To avoid depriving people of their fundamental needs in the name of
development, development should be done for the people.
The Joshimath issue has two sides to it. The first is the rapid infrastructural
development taking place in an extremely vulnerable ecosystem like the
Himalayas. Second, it is unprecedented how climate change is presenting itself
in certain of India's hill states. For instance, Uttarakhand experienced
calamity in the years 2021 and 2022. Several climate risk occurrences have
occurred, such as times of heavy rain that cause landslides. We must first
recognize how delicate these locations are and how even minor alterations or
disruptions in the ecology can result in catastrophic events, as we are
currently seeing in Joshimath.
The government of Uttarakhand has established committees and conducted surveys
at various points in time, but none of the committee's recommendations have been
carried through. Despite geologists' cautions and locals' protests, road
widening and the construction of big hydropower projects continue.
If the same goes on like this numerous other cities in Uttarakhand will also
experience conditions similar to those in Joshimath, which is not the only city
in the state that is sinking into the ground. Some geologists say that towns
like Joshimath, such as Karnaparag and Gopeshewar in the Chamoli district,
Ghanshali in the Tehri district, Munshiari, Dharchaula in the Pithorgarh
district, Bhatwari in Uttarkashi, and Nainital in the Pauri district, among
others, may also sink into the earth.
The disaster management act of 2005 is merely paper legislation in India, and
there is a severe lack of coordination. The failure to take disaster management
seriously leads to heavy economic losses. Although we cannot stop natural
disasters, we may take the necessary precautions to lessen the damage and save
hundreds of lives.
Joshimath is a clear example of what one should not do in the Himalayas.
Written By: Abhishek Rana,
1st year B.A.LL.B from National Law Institute