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Note: National, provincial and district boundaries have changed considerably since 1908. Typically, old states, ‘divisions’ and districts have been broken into smaller units, and many tahsils upgraded to districts. Some units have since been renamed. Therefore, this article is being posted mainly for its historical value. Village in Garhwal District, United Provinces, situated in 30 degree 33' N. and 79 degree 35' E., at an elevation of 6,107 feet above sea- level and about 1,500 feet above the confluence of the Dhauli and Bishanganga, the combined stream being known as the Alaknanda. Population (1900), 468 in summer and a little larger in winter. It is chiefly remarkable as the winter head-quarters of the rawal or chief priest of the temple of Badrinath, who retires here after the snows have rendered the higher shrine inaccessible. The village contains several ancient temples, some of which have been much damaged by earthquakes. A police station is opened here during the pilgrim season.


Pancient prophecy

Shivani Azad, January 15, 2023: The Times of India

Joshimath : Locals believe that the shrine of Badrinath — presently accessed via Joshimath — will become inaccessible in the future, and the worship of Lord Badrinarayan will happen at the Bhavishya Badri temple, situated about 22km away from Joshimath at an altitude of 8,530 feet in Suvai village ahead of Tapovan. 
The prophecy is mentioned in the ‘Sanath Samhita’, an ancient text, which says that when the arm of the Narasingha idol at Joshimath will fall off and the mountains of Jay and Vijay near Vishnuprayag collapse, making the present shrine of Badrinath inaccessible, the worship of Lord Vishnu as Badrinarayan will begin at Bhavishya Badri.

Incidentally, the arm of the idol of Narasingha, one of the avatars of Vishnu — depicted in a meditative state unlike his usual self — is now ‘as thin as hair’, although it hasn’t fallen off. The area near Vishnuprayag, where the NTPC hydropower project is situated, and the town of Joshimath are in aprecarious state, leading many to wonder whether there may be some truth in the prophecy. 
TOImet with the head priest of Lord Narasingha temple in Joshimath, Sanjay Prasad Dimri. “Locals feel, maybe, the deity is upset and hence distressing events have started unravelling in the holy town,” he said.

Speaking about the ancient lore, Dimri said, “Narasingha temple was established by Adi Shankaracharya. In this temple, Lord Vishnu is in his calm avatar. The idol is on ‘shaligram’. The idol of Lord Narasingha here has its arm thinning with each passing day; we see itevery day during the lord’s ‘jalabhishek’ in the morning. ” 
He added: “At Bhavishya Badri, there is another idol of Lord Badrinath, which originated on its own and is growing bigger each passing day. Our mythological books mention that when the left arm of Lord Narasingha thins out, Lord Badrinath would quit his present place and move to Bhavishya Badri as the two mountains — Jay and Vijay — would come together closing the gateway to present-day Badrinath, some 45km from here. Devotees would then start paying their obeisance at Bhavishya Badri. ”
Two noted scientists of Uttarakhand — former glaciologist of Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, DP Dobhal, and director of Uttarakhand space application centre, MPS Bisht -visited the Bhavishya Badri temple earlier this week.

Taking to a social media platform, Bisht wrote: “The fact on the idol's elevation is actually related to soil creep which is a normal phenomenon in a periglacial zone. This temple is situated in a similar landscape. . . ”

Warning signals ignored

By the judiciary, 2013 onwards

Priyadarshini Patel, January 27, 2023: The Times of India

Successive governments have failed in their duties towards holistic development, but more worryingly the judiciary has also failed – on at least three separate occasions where timely action could have prevented the current Joshimath land-subsidence.

First, in 2013 after the horrors of Kedarnath flooding a Supreme Court bench headed by Justice Radhakrishnan took suo motu cognisance of the disaster and expressing “deep concern” directed that no further clearances be granted to any hydroelectric power project in Uttarakhand.

It also constituted an expert body to “make a detailed study as to whether hydroelectric power projects existing and under construction have contributed to the environmental degradation, if so, to what extent and also whether it has contributed to the present tragedy”.

The committee finding that under construction and existing projects had aggravated the 2013 disaster, recommended cancellation of 23 out of 24 proposed HEPs in Uttarakhand, and that “terrain above the MCT (Main Central Thrust) in general … should be kept free from hydropower intervention.”

Tapovan-Vishnugad HEP whose headrace tunnel runs at the base of Joshimath and is above the MCT, should thus have been halted.

But the Justice Radhakrishnan bench only stayed the 24 proposed projects before his retirement, resulting in a new Justice Dipak Mishra bench which ordered the reconsideration of six of the proposed 24 projects. And the MoEF granted clearances. Thus the goalpost swung from “deep concern” to permitting proposed HEPs in the disaster-ridden state of Uttarakhand.

Second, in 2018 local petitioners filed a PIL against the blanket widening of the Chardhaam route to a Double Lane (DL-PS) of 10 m width, arguing: “Any further cutting of the mountain base for widening or tree felling would cause unprecedented activation of landslides which could block even the existing highway, thus being counterproductive.” Taking cognisance, Justice Nariman’s SC bench ordered in 2020 that a narrower Intermediate Width would be implemented, thereby saving lakhs of trees, forest cover and drastically reducing hill-cutting.

But then, CDP metamorphosed from a tourism to a defence project.

The matter returned to court.

And, the officially reported 200 landslides notwithstanding, in 2021 a new SC bench headed by Justice Chandrachud ordered the DL-PS in these fragile Himalayan valleys.

Third, after the Rishiganga flooding in 2021, the impacted residents of Raini and Joshimath filed a PIL in the Uttarakhand high court, praying for cancellation of the Rishiganga and Tapovan-Vishnugad HEPs, along with rehabilitation of Raini village. The court rejected the petition, stating: “However, there is no piece of evidence produced by these petitioners to establish the fact that they are ‘social activists’ … Therefore, the petitioners are merely puppets at the hand of an unknown puppeteer ... Hence, this petition is dismissed, while imposing costs of Rs 10,000 on each of the petitioner.”

Now we have the Joshimath disaster, which experts largely attribute to the HEP tunnel, despite denials by NTPC. It cannot be mere coincidence that each time an HEP is constructed there is land subsidence, loss of water sources and cracks in houses as seen in Chain (Chamoli), Bhatwadi (Uttarkashi), Khaat (Rudraprayag), Haat (Chamoli), Dobhal (Tehri) and villages around Tehri dam, to mention a few.

Our Upanishads carry a weighty parable. Virochana, ruler of the demons and Indra, lord of the gods, once went to Brahma and asked him about God. They were told to look in the mirror. Looking at his reflection the demon instantly concluded that he was God; the deva contemplated and realised that God was All. The Western way is to measure development by the amount one can consume; India teaches us to measure our worth by all that we can uplift and divinise: Isha vasyam idam sarvam . The difference is nothing less than that between an egocentric existence, engulfed in its own gains, unhesitant to exploit, and an expansive one that is creative in the highest sense of the word.

India’s great failure has been the inability to model development along the lines of her own civilisation, in keeping with her own dharma, and building on the incomparable foundations of her elevating culture, laid down in the forests of dawn, by the seer-poets, the rishis.

That vision teaches us that all development is a wondrous unfolding of one’s inner potential.

Contrarily, India apes the material-driven West.

The unprecedented extinction of other species is the most damning proof of how conscienceless this frenzy has been.

One does not need to be an academic to understand matters of common sense: Honesty will do. The issues raised here are from one citizen to another, wherever you are, whoever you are. The future we build is our collective task, and it should not take a Kedarnath flood or a sinking Joshimath until the isolated struggle of a few becomes the voice of the many.

The writer is head of Ganga Ahvaan, a citizen forum for conserving the Ganga and the Himalayas

Warning signals: Geology

2006 report had highlighted the sinking

Gaurav Talwar, January 15, 2023: The Times of India

DEHRADUN: Parts of Joshimath may have sunk by nearly 2.2 feet (70cm), sources told TOI on the basis of ground investigation of affected areas carried out recently in the picturesque town, which is facing aggravated land subsidence since the beginning of January.

The startling figure is way above Indian Space Research Organisation's (Isro) satellite data survey on surface deformation which found 5.4cm subsidence in the past 12 days. The Isro report has been taken down now.

A senior official privy to observations of the field investigation by experts, said, "The ground investigation clearly shows 70cm subsidence in and around the badminton court inside Jaypee Colony where an aquifer burst on January 2. In pockets of Manohar Bagh, 7-10cm subsidence has been observed."

The official further said remote sensing technology deployed by Isro can tell horizontal displacement, which occurs during earthquakes, more accurately than vertical subsidence, as in Joshimath. The official added: "Changes in ground surface can be gauged through remote sensing but what is happening below the ground needs a detailed field investigation." Geologist SP Sati said something had triggered the subsidence and it would continue if unchecked.

Report: Sinking will stop only if there is an obstacle

In the report prepared on the basis of a field survey conducted by an eight-member team led by disaster management secretary Ranjit Sinha on January 5-6, it was observed that the aquifer burst at Jaypee Colony on the night of January 2 had aggravated the cracks in that area. The report further pointed out that “the water flow probably created some underground void space, which is being manifested as sinking and subsidence in different spots above and below the colony.

This has caused several large cracks, some more than one metre deep”. Geologist SP Sati told TOI: “Some parts of Joshimath have witnessed subsidence up to a couple of feet, while in other areas it is a few inches. The most important thing is that something has triggered the land subsidence, which will only stop if there is an obstacle, or else it will continue.”

Confirming the nature of subsidence, resident Durga Prashad Saklani said, “My room has sunk by over a foot and the verandah has subsided by nearly two feet, making the entire house uninhabitable.” Chirag Prajapati, caretaker of a hotel, added, “My hotel has sunk by nearly 6 inches in the past 15 days. The building behind our hotel has also leaned towards our hotel.”

2022 onwards, the forebodings come true

The town is sinking slowly

Sep 17, 2022: The Times of India

Dehradun : Large chunks of Joshimath, the quaint town located at a height of over 6,000 feet in Uttarakhand and considered to be of strategic importance because of its proximity to the Chinese border, are slowly sinking, reports Gaurav Talwar.

Ateam formed to undertake geological and geotechnical investigation around the town in Chamoli found it is built on an unstable foundation — a thick cover of landslide material — which can give way in case of heavy rain, tremors, unregulated construction or more footfall than the town’s carrying capacity. It blamed the “sinking” on the numerous homes, resorts and hotels that have mushroomed along the Joshimath-Auli road. Poor drainage, sewage and erosion by rivers have compounded the situation.

Ntpc role denied

Sanjay Dutta, January 14, 2023: The Times of India

2006- 23, the Joshimath issue
From: Sanjay Dutta, January 14, 2023: The Times of India

New Delhi : There is no ground evidence that drilling of tunnel for NTPC’s 520 MW Tapovan Vishnugad hydel project was inducing instability in the Joshimath area project, an expert committee set up by the government had said in August 2010 on continued land subsidence in the pilgrim town of Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district.

The committee under Chamoli DM, set up after people raised concerns over water level sinking in Selong area, had experts from IIT Roorkee, Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology and National Environmental Engineering Institute as members.

The committee’s conclusion bears out even today, 12 years after the tunnel was completed in this stretch in August 2011. Till date, there is no sign of subsidence around the tunnel alignment at the overground surface. There is also no sign of any damage to surface flora or fauna at the site. 
This underlines the fact company engineers have been stressing time and again that drilling/boring through rock formations more than 1km below the surface does not disturb the structure or surface flora and fauna. The engineers also pointed out that the tunnel is more than 1 km away from town’s outer perimeter.

The project, which also envisages a concrete barrage 15 km upstream of Joshimath, has been drawing flak from the public for the crisisfacing the town due to land subsidence. Two other panels — one set up in 1976 and the other in August 2022 — also blamed the geography and water seepage from various sources as the main reason for the subsidence and not the project.

Broadly, the findings by both the committees weresimilar as they identified geography and habitation as the reasons for the subsidence. Hill wash, natural slope (angle of repose), cultivation, seepage and soil erosion were listed among the probable causes of subsidence. The recommendation was to stop open drain, closing of soaking pits and construction of concrete sewage to stop seepage. 
Sources said the findings in the reports have found an echo at recent review meetings at the Centre and its communications to provide perspective to the state.

The first committee to study the reasons of instability of Joshimath was set up under then Garhwal commissioner M C Mishra by the UP government after instance of subsidence came to light for the first time in 1976. Yet another panel under DM Chamoli was set up in August 2022 to look into continued subsistence. The Mishra committee described Joshimath as highly unstable because it lies on an ancient landslide and is “situated on weathered, landslide mass of big unsettled boulders in the loose matrix of fence micaceous sandy and clayey material”.

Man made mistakes

Tunnelling through a sinking town

Anjal Prakash, January 7, 2023: The Times of India

Residents of Joshimath are protesting because their homes, roads and agricultural fields developed enormous and sudden fractures over the past few days. Water is gushing out of fields while houses are developing cracks. This, prima facie, shows that the town is under tremendous stress, and a portion of it may sink.

Joshimath,or Jyotirmath, is a temple town and a municipality in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district. The math or monastery is one of the four cardinal institutions founded by Adi Shankaracharya in the four corners of India. The cantonment at Joshimath is one of the closest to the China border; thus, the town has both religious and strategic significance. 

Early signs of risk ignored

The entire region, from Chamoli to Joshimath, has been familiar with disasters for the past few decades. The glacial avalanche known as the Chamoli disaster led to flash floods in the Rishiganga and Dhaulganga rivers in February 2021. The two rivers are tributaries of the Ganga. The disaster killed around 200 people, including workers trapped in the Tapovan Vishnugad hydropower plant’s tunnel on the Dhaulganga river. Then, in July 2021, during heavy rainfall, a portion of the mountain sank in Dhandharia near Joshimath. 
In a research article documenting 23 disastrous events in 2021 itself in Uttarakhand, Sushil Khanduri of Uttarakhand State Disaster Management Authority showed that heavy downpour, cloudburst, rock fall, debris flow, avalanche, flood/ flash floods occurred in many locations of the state. These disasters took 308 lives, while 61 people went missing and 105 were injured. Around 1,048 farm animals were lost, 5,729 houses were fully damaged, and 18. 5 hectares of agriculture fields were washed away. The research explains that these disasters mostly relate to meteorological regime changes, unusual rainfallpatterns, and indiscriminate human actions in high-risk areas.

In 1964, the government had appointed MC Mishra, then collector of Garhwal, to find out why Joshimath was sinking. His 18-member committee report explained that Joshimath is situated in an old landslide zone and could sink if rampant development is unchecked. It recommended that substantial construction should be prohibited in the vicinity of Joshimath. 

The Vishnugad hydel project

Since then, numerous hydroelectric projects including the Vishnugad hydel project have been approved in areas such as Joshimath and Tapovan, despite the region’s geological and environmental sensitivity. The road and tunnel constructions in a fragile mountain ecosystem are creating havoc and leading to the present-day crisis in Joshimath.

Residents and activists working in the Himalayan region question how the Vishnugad project was sanctioned. The survey was done by a private agency that failed to take cognisance of prevailing fragile geological conditions where tunnellingcould disturb the local ecology leading to huge changes in the mountain system.

In May 2010, two researchers from Garhwal University and Disaster Mitigation Management Centre, MPS Bisht and Piyoosh Rautela, wrote a commentary in the journal Current Science highlighting these risks that the town is facing. 

● They reported that the government should not have overburdened the town through the tunnel alignment which was part of the hydropower project. 

● The tunnelling process punctures the water-bearing strata and causes harm in water gushing out and flooding the area.

● Inability to understand the ecology and geology of the area before implementing large scale infrastructure projects such as hydropower projects and road constructions are acts of negligence by authorities.

And climate change makes it worse 
The Himalayan mountains are one of the youngest mountains of the world and therefore they are fragile and unstable. Small changes in the weather and climate pattern affect the mountain system strongly. IPCC reports have been making these observations for the past couple of years, first in the special report on oceans and cryosphere published in 2019 and then in the 6th Assessment Report released in 2022.

● Due to global warming, the region has been experiencing extreme weather events as recorded in 2021-22. The number of extreme rainfall events that have hit Uttarakhand was unprecedented. 

● Forest area is also decreasing due to rampant felling and increased infrastructure development. 

● Climate change has become a force multiplier, when things were already precarious.

Will Joshimath sink is a question whose answer may lie in the future but whatever happened till now is totally our creation. Due to this, a place which has cultural relevance for millions of Hindus and Buddhist in India may no longer be there, thanks to the mismanagement of environment and natural resources.

However, not everything is lost, and we must save whatever still exists. That will require a transformative change in both our thinking and the patterns of growth that we envisage without paying attention to the immediate environment.

The writer is Research Director at Bharti Institute of Public Policy at ISB. He contributes to IPCC reports and had led research on glaciated rivers in Hindu-Kush Himalayan region.


Migration from the villages to Joshimath


Kautilya Singh, February 6, 2023: The Times of India

Top reasons for migration, Joshimath
From: Kautilya Singh, February 6, 2023: The Times of India

NEW DELHI: When the ground under Joshimath started sinking rapidly at the end of 2022, attention turned to the large hydroelectric projects built around the town, and the heavy construction done within it. However, experts say the problem of over-construction is related to migration.

Hill towns like Joshimath have witnessed a population boom in the past few decades due to increasing migration of people from nearby villages for better earning opportunities. In Joshimath, for example, the population has doubled in the past decade without a significant increase in resources. Srinagar, Rudraprayag and Gopeshwar in Uttarakhand also have populations far beyond their carrying capacity. Experts say these towns are not geared to support large popula tions. Data from Uttarakhand Rural Development and Migration Prevention Commission (URDMPC) shows over 5 lakh people migrated from the state’s 10,000-odd villages in the past few years. Over 35% of the migrants shifted to the nearest town, straining its limited resources.

Overall, 19. 5% of the people migrated to the nearest town, 15. 2% to the district headquarters, and 0. 9% abroad. The figures are worrisome as most of the small towns in the hills are not prepared for such a large influx. The commission’s data shows 70-75% of people moving out of their villages – either temporarily or permanently – live in towns and cities within the state itself.

“Srinagar in Pauri Garhwal is bursting with people, and so are Joshimath, Bageshwar city, Pithoragarh city, Nainital, Almora, Gopeshwar, Uttarkashi and Tehri. There is an urgent need to find a solution to the problem, otherwise the situation could soo n become alarming,” said SS Negi, chairman, URDMPC. The biggest section of migrants within Uttarakhand is from the 25-35 age group (42. 2%), followed by those aged over 35 years (29%), and below 25 years (28. 6%).

“The findings show most people migrated in search of jobs, which are available in nearby towns. Therefore, we need to develop more economic activities in the hilly villages . Opening sectorsthat could provide earning opportunities in the village can prevent migration in a big way,” Negi added.

Former director of Uttarakhand Space Application Centre and professor of geology at HNB Garhwal University, MPS Bisht, said: “There is no denying the fact that there is a lot of pressure on small towns in hills and district headquarters. Bette r healthcare options, education facilities and opportunities for earning are the three biggest factors behind migration. ”

Over a decade, 3. 8 lakh people from 6,338 villages have migrated on a semipermanent basis and 1. 1 lakh have migrated permanentlyfrom 3,496 villages. Most of the people (50. 2%) migrated to find work; 8. 8% left due to poor health facilities, 15. 2% due to poor educational facilities, 3. 7% due to lack of infrastructure, 5. 4% due to low farm produce and 2. 5% because others had migrated.

Bisht added Uttarakhand’s towns “need proper building norms and guidelines that need to be strictly followed by people making their homes or hotels. ”

Agreeing that the problem can be addressed if adequate employment avenues open up in villages, Shashi Joshi, gram pradhan of Sunai village in Karnaprayag block of Chamoli district, said, “People living in the hills are tough and used to living in difficult conditions. No one wants to leave such beautiful places. We need to work on long-term plans to provide employment opportunities that are in accordance with the region. That will greatly reduce the burden of increasing population in nearby towns. ”

See also

See also

Char Dham yatra

Dhari Devi (Char Dham)



Uttarakhand: environment, ecology

Uttarakhand: Forest fires

Uttarakhand: Landslides, subsidence

Uttarakhand: Natural disasters

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