Uttarakhand’s “sinking” town Joshimath has been declared disaster-prone after cracks appeared in homes and roads, forcing authorities to evacuate scores of families.
Chamoli district magistrate Himanshu Khurana, under whose jurisdiction Joshimath falls, said the town has been declared disaster-prone and two central teams will reach shortly to assess the situation.
“Two teams from the central government, including a team from the Jal Shakti ministry, are arriving here. Construction activities have been banned in Joshimath and nearby areas. Dry ration kits are being distributed to the affected people,” the senior official said.
According to officials, 68 families have been temporarily displaced after hundreds of buildings and roads in the town developed cracks.
Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami has appealed to everyone to work as a team and save the town. He has also said that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is monitoring the situation and has assured full support to the state government.
“We’ve appealed to everyone to work as a team & save #Joshimath. (People of) 68 houses that were in danger have been shifted. A zone of over 600 houses has formed and efforts are underway to shift them. PM is also monitoring it and has assured all possible help,” Mr Dhami told news agency ANI.
The district administration has said affected people have been moved to relief camps with basic facilities. “Basic facilities in the relief camps arranged for the affected people in Joshimath are being constantly inspected by the administration and all possible help is being extended to the affected people,” Mr Khurana said.
The district administration has also ordered immediate evacuation of residents from areas probe to landslides.
A town of about 17,000 people, Joshimath has set off alarm bells after cracks appeared in homes and roads, prompting the authorities to take urgent measures.
Experts have blamed unplanned infrastructure development, including hydropower projects, for the alarming situation.
DM Banerjee, a scientist at the Indian National Science Academy, said construction of roads and tunnels for a hydroelectric project nearby contributed to the situation.
“Joshimath is a part of the lesser Himalayas, the rocks are from the Precambrian era and the territory is of seismic zone 4. Apart from this, people should not have made houses on this land, especially not big ones with 3-4 storeys,” the scientist told news agency ANI.
Many have pointed to the hydroelectricity project of National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) in this connection.
Residents have said they wrote to the Chief Minister thrice last month, alerting him about the impact of the blasts in the tunnels of the NTPC project.
Cracks in the homes and roads had started appearing due to the blasts a few kilometres from the town, residents wrote in the letters accessed by NDTV.
“When cracks first appeared in our homes in December last year, we wrote several letters to the government, but never got a response. The DM visited once, but no action was taken. Now we have reached a point where Joshimath can sink at any point of time,” hotelier Thakur Singh Rana told NDTV.
The district magistrate acknowledged that the residents wrote to him and the Chief Minister, but he “didn’t know what to do”.
NTPC has denied any links between its project and the situation in Joshimath. In an official statement, it has said the NTPC tunnel doesn’t go under the town and no blasting work is being carried out at the site at this point.