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A village near Joshimath observed fractures in 2021, and a commission advised evacuation; no action was taken.

Just over a year and a half before to the soil sinking in Joshimath, in June-July 2021, inhabitants of Raini hamlet, 22 kilometres from Joshimath town, observed similar fractures in buildings and roadways.

A team of geologists from the Uttarakhand Disaster Recovery Initiative was hired by the state government to survey the area. The team suggested evacuation in its report to the state administration, stating that the town was unstable and required “slope stabilisation.”

“The community of Raini faces severe slope stability issues, with the entire inhabited area affected by active subsidence and the downslope by toe erosion. During the course of the study, extensive fractures were discovered in the walls and floors of numerous homes, indicating significant slope movement in the region. According to the research, it is therefore advisable to relocate the Raini community to a safer place.

When contacted, Chamoli District Magistrate Himanshu Khurana stated that while the government had taken note of the report’s suggestions, no relocation or rehabilitation had occurred as of yet. “We are searching for alternate land on which to relocate the village, but have been unable to discover anything suitable. We have also given the inhabitants of Raini the chance to relocate elsewhere if they own land elsewhere… “The availability of land for restoration is one of the greatest obstacles we have,” he stated.

Raini is situated on the riverbanks at the confluence of the Rishiganga and Dhauliganga rivers in the Chamoli district, on the Joshimath-Malari Road. A few months before the faults were discovered, the Rishiganga dam and power plant were destroyed by a flash flood.

The team of geologists determined that the flood caused considerable damage at the foothills of Raini village, resulting in 5- to 10-centimeter-wide fissures on roads and structures in the community.

“A sudden flood consists of colluvium with a high flow intensity… It disturbed the slope face area and slope-forming strata… On top of the slope, there was visible damage to residential structures and slide zones where tensional cracks and erosion occurred… During the field trip, it was seen that the slope-forming material is quite saturated as a result of the persistent rainfall. When the slope-forming material becomes saturated, the soil/debris material loses its strength. As a result, there are several slip zones throughout the settlement from the slope’s base to its crest. Along the localised water channels, soil erosion was also seen, according to the research.

Similar to Joshimath, the survey discovered that Raini hamlet was situated on old debris from a landslide. In Uttarakhand, the districts of Chamoli and Bageshwar saw excessive precipitation in June 2021, which may have been one of the causes.

The report urged effective implementation of “drainage provisions” to deflect “surface runoff” during the rainy season and cautioned against “hill-slope cutting” for road building.

B Venkateshwarlu, a geotechnical specialist with the Uttarakhand Disaster Recovery Initiative, told The Indian Express, “The rapid flood imposed immense strain on the already-vulnerable area, which was built on loose soil. At the time of our study, the impacted villagers’ dwellings had been restored. In a state like Uttarakhand, however, it is difficult to predict which regions will be most affected by a natural disaster. A region that appears secure now may become highly susceptible tomorrow.”

“Uttarakhand’s mountains are ecologically fragile. Additionally, deforestation, rising urbanisation, and ever-increasing building projects have exacerbated the problem. The state is already susceptible to natural disasters, and even a minor effect of climate change or global warming can result in widespread destruction. Extreme weather occurrences, such as cloudbursts, flash floods, landslides, and glacier outbursts, have already begun to demonstrate the effects of climate change. If the rise in global temperatures continues unchecked, we will see an increase in monsoon rainfall… an increase in extreme weather events, which can be quite harmful for the hilly states,” said G P Sharma, president of Skymet Weather’s Meteorology and Climate Change division.


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