As early as almost half a century ago, a committee of 18 members warned that the town of Joshimath is “geologically unstable” and proposed many limits and corrective actions.
Under the leadership of the then-Commissioner of Garhwal Mandal, Mahesh Chandra Mishra, a committee was formed to investigate the source of the landslides and subsidence of Joshimath. Its report dated May 7, 1976 recommended limitations on heavy building work, cultivation on slopes, and tree chopping, as well as the development of pucca drainage to avoid rainwater seepage, an adequate sewage system, and cement blocks on riverbanks to prevent erosion.
During the current situation, Congress and BJP are pointing fingers at each other for failing to implement the report’s recommendations.
The area is geologically unstable, resulting in landslides, road breaches, and localised ground subsidence, according to a report seen by The Deccan Era. According to the report, the increase in construction activity and population has resulted in severe biotic disruption.
Regarding reoccurring landslides, the report stated, “Probable reasons include hillwash, the natural angle of repose, the location of cultivable land and human habitation atop previous landslide debris intermixed with glacial material, weathering, and stream undercutting.” It could be attributable to creating a large fissure plane and movement along it.”
“Similarly, the location of the agricultural land on slopes will result in landslides. The erosion of bare rocks by Alaknanda and Dhauliganga river currents also contributes to the occurrence of landslides… Due to precipitation and snowmelt, hill washing and water percolation occur. “As a result of the materials being washed away, water penetrating the rocks dislodges them,” it states.
The assessment observed that significant development projects were carried out in the region after 1962 without proper systemic arrangements for regulated drainage, resulting in the percolation of water that eventually caused landslides.
“The slopes are naked due to the torrential velocity of the water rushing down the slope. The percolating surface water saturates the fragile soil, eroding it and so forming voids between the stones. Boulders are now unsupported and detach from the parent mass, causing them to slide. According to the paper, repetition of this process causes the slope to become steeper.
It drew attention to the uncontrolled destruction of trees by stating, “Trees are significant because they operate as mechanical rain barriers, boost water conservation capacity, and hold the bulk of loose waste.” A rise in grazing and browsing incidences is comparable to timber harvesting. A variety of agencies have ruthlessly destroyed the natural forest cover in the Joshimath region. The stony slope is devoid of vegetation. In the lack of trees, soil erosion and landslides occur. Nothing is holding the boulders together. Landslides and slips are the inevitable results.”
The assessment noted that Joshimath is situated on a sand and stone deposit and is, therefore, unsuitable for a settlement. It was stated that blasting and excessive traffic will cause natural variables to become out of balance.
“A lack of sufficient drainage facilities also causes landslides.” Existing soak pits are responsible for forming voids between soil and rocks. It will result in water seepage and soil erosion, the document states.
The report suggested corrective actions, stating that major building activity should not be permitted until the soil’s load-bearing capacity has been determined. For road maintenance and other building projects, it would be prudent not to excavate or blast the slope to remove stones. It was stated that in places prone to landslides, stones and boulders should not be removed from the base of hills because doing so would result in support loss.
“Timber, firewood, and charcoal harvesting for the township may be severely regulated, and no trees should be cut down in the landslide region. On slopes, agriculture must be avoided. “Instead, a large push to plant trees and grass should be implemented in order to preserve soil and water resources,” the report stated.
The Joshimath region is located on permanent tectonic zones that may be active at present. Water seepage is abundant in the area. In order to prevent further landslides, it is essential to block the seepage of open rainfall below. Therefore, the development of a pucca drain system is essential. As was done in Nainital, where a stretch of Mall (Road) was sinking, appropriate drainage must be constructed quickly. These drains must be pucca and must not fall into the landslide zone. Support should be given for hanging boulders. “Similar support should be given to boulders at the foothills,” the report stated.
The chief minister of Uttarakhand, Pushkar Singh Dhami, advised similar precautions last week, days after a number of residences reported large fissures. “In addition to the immediate action plan, the process of long-term planning should be accelerated, and work on the treatment of risk zones, sewers, and drainage should be completed as soon as possible,” he said on Friday.
According to information provided by the Chamoli district administration, there are around 3,900 residences and 400 commercial buildings dispersed across 2.5 square kilometres in the Joshimath region. Approximately 195 homes were constructed as part of the PM Awas Yojna.
On Monday evening, 678 of these homes and structures were reported to have cracks. Monday saw the relocation of 27 additional families, bringing the total number of families evacuated to temporary shelters to 81.
Municipal officials told The Deccan Era that just 1,790 dwellings pay property tax because the remainder were built without authorization. “The majority of houses in the region were built without authorization. “Only those requiring bank financing receive maps from the local development authority,” stated one official.
According to a District Level Development Authority official, approximately sixty new homes have been constructed in the area since 2018. “The actual number is significantly greater,” he claimed.