In January, cracks showed up all over the eight-room house of Anshu Rawat. Three months later, the 26-year-old woman and six members of her family are crammed into a single room in a Joshimath building called Nagar Palika.
Nearly 300 families, including Anshu’s, had to leave their homes that month because of cracks in many of the buildings in the tourist town of Joshimath.
“It was said that our eight-room house was completely dangerous. We can barely all fit in this room, so we rented a small space in a nearby town to keep our things. As compensation for our house, we got Rs 40 lakh. I don’t think we’ll be able to build a house like our old one at the current prices. Now that we’ve gotten the money, I’m sure we’ll soon be asked to leave. Anshu said, “I don’t know what we’ll do next.”
Joshimath seems to be improving now that the government says the Char Dham yatra will start on April 22. Due to the delay in the expert committee report, there is still a cloud of doubt over the future of the 296 families who have been forced to move. The study, which hasn’t been made yet by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA), will show where Joshimath is safe and where it isn’t, and it will also help the government figure out how much to pay for the land. Ranjit Sinha, who is in charge of disaster management and recovery in Uttarakhand, said that the report should be ready by the end of April.
There were cracks on 868 buildings in the town’s nine wards, and 181 buildings were deemed to be in the dangerous zone. Anshu’s house is located below the Hotel Mount View, which has since been torn down. She lived there with her husband, brother-in-law, father-in-law, mother-in-law, and nine-month-old daughter. She is also worried because her cab driver husband hasn’t been able to find much work since January.
“This year, there was so little snow that almost no people went to Auli. So he wasn’t able to get much work. She hoped, “I hope he finds work during the yatra season.”
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The head of Nagar Palika, Shailendra Panwar, said that seven affected families are staying in the same number of rooms in a two-story building on the property. On the bottom floor of this building is a community centre that is rented out for weddings and other events. Most of the time, the rooms are rented out for guests to stay in.
The room Anshu’s family has been given has two beds, a gas stove, a metal almirah, and a bunch of trash boxes. Most of the other rooms in the building are like this one. A family of five has been living in one of the other rooms with some furniture, a TV, a gas stove, and an almirah. They said that when they left their ruined house, they were able to take some of their things with them. But there isn’t much room left to walk in the room.
Anjali Rawat, who is 30 years old, lives in the same building as her husband and 8-year-old son. After they moved in, they ate what was made at the community hall for almost a week. Anjali said that her son didn’t like the food, so she set up a small kitchen in the room.
“We had to leave our 10-room house in January because the floor and walls were cracked. We had a small restaurant in the market. Even that was said to be dangerous. We don’t have a place to live or a way to make money. We were given Rs. 1.5 lakh as compensation. Rs. 1 lakh was a down payment on the 20 lahks we would get for the house, and Rs. 50,000 was for moving costs. How can we build a good house only with Rs 20 lakh? In 2015 or 2016, our house was built. “Building materials are much more expensive now,” Anjali said as she heated water for tea on a stove in one corner of the room.
Her neighbour, Usha Devi, who is 38 years old, told her that eight people in her area had moved out in January. Most people live in places set up by the Nagar Palika, but many have hired houses to stay in or store their things. Usha said that rents had gone up a lot in safe areas because of the quick and sharp rise in demand.
The government has built temporary homes in Dhak village, about 11 km from Joshimath, to help the affected people. As of right now, 15 buildings are almost done. The walls of these houses are made of fibre-reinforced plastic filled with glass wool. Metal beams support them. 163 families, with 631 people, moved into Nagar Palika relief shelters. The other 133 families, with 364 people, moved in with family.
Joshimath Sub Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Kumkum Joshi said, “Right now, we are making these in Dhak village. The government plans to build 90 of these.” We will build more buildings once we hear about more places. We have also made three temporary buildings in Joshimath so that families who have been affected can see what these places are like.
But most injured families don’t want to move to Dhak, even for a short time.
“The main problem with moving to Dhak is how far it is from Joshimath,” said the manager of a hotel in Joshimath. Most affected families work in town and can’t afford to go back and forth every day.
On February 15, the Uttarakhand Cabinet accepted a plan to pay disaster-affected families in Joshimath for their land and buildings and permanently move them. So far, 39 families have been paid a total of Rs 10.26 crore under this scheme. Also, Rs 1 lakh has been given to each of the 324 families as an advance payment, and each of the 357 families has been given Rs 50,000 as a moving fee.
Joshi said this about the compensation slabs: “Most families have chosen a one-time financial payment. Their decisions are based on who they are and where they live. For example, people who don’t live in Joshimath, have homes in other towns or don’t depend on the town for their income have chosen a one-time settlement. Families that have lived in Joshimath for a long time are still not sure. They agreed to take money for their houses but not yet for their land. It’s possible that they’re not sure where this land is, and that’s why they’re not sure what to do. Once the site is decided, more families should choose.
On January 17, the Centre told eight technical and scientific institutions that they had three weeks and two months to finish their studies on Joshimath. Sinha said last week that the early reports from technical institutions had been sent to the NDMA. He said that the final report would be released after the NDMA, the National Institute of Disaster Management (NIDM), and the Uttarakhand State Disaster Management Authority (USDMA) do a Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA).
Last week, Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami tried to calm tourist fears about the annual Char Dham yatra by saying that Auli and Joshimath are in the high-risk seismic Zone V, were “completely safe and ready” for the trek. He said that this year’s number of tourists will likely be higher than last year’s. Dhami also said that 11.30 million people had already signed up for the yearly yatra.
Joshimath is at the bottom of the Auli slope and is a famous place for tourists to stop on their way to the Badrinath temple, which is about 45 km away. Hotels in Joshimath that were closed because people were afraid of more cracks or because the government had booked them to house rescue and survey team members or families who had been affected are eagerly waiting for tourists. Local companies have put a lot of hope in the Badrinath yatra, which starts on April 27. This is because the land in Auli has been sinking, and there hasn’t been much snow.
Even with all of these changes, some people have refused to leave their dangerous homes. Some have even started to fix up their unsafe homes, which is against the law because building work is banned in and around the town.
On Joshimath-Auli Road, the sad owner of one of these houses cried, “I don’t want to go anywhere. I’ve spent everything I’ve ever saved on this house. I have a job in Joshimath. How can I leave everything and move somewhere else? I don’t want my house to be worth anything. If the government wants to help me fix up my house, that’s fine. If not, I’ll do it myself… I have lived here my whole life. And if God wants me to die here, I will.”