Building Damage and Land Subsidence in Joshimath, Uttarakhand
Attribution: ArmouredCyborg, CC BY-SA 4.0 , via Wikimedia Commons

On 8th January 2023, a high-level committee reviewed building damage and land subsidence in Joshimath in Uttarakhand. It was informed that a strip of land with a width of around 350 meters is affected. The administration is working with the affected families to evacuate and relocate them to safer places with adequate arrangements for food, shelter and security. Residents of Joshimath are being informed of the developments and their cooperation is being sought. Advice of experts is being sought to formulate the short-medium-long term plans. Urban development plan for Joshimath should be risk sensitive.  

Joshimath (or, Jyotirmath) is a town city in Chamoli District of Uttarakhand state. It is located at an altitude of 1875 m on the foothills of the Himalayas along a running ridge, on the site of an ancient landslide. The town is confirmed to be sinking due to its geographical background. The hundreds of buildings in the town have developed cracks and may have already become unfit for habitation. As a result, there is fear among the residents. Earlier, in 2021, the town was badly affected by flood. 

The reason why the town is sinking is both natural and manmade. Geographically, the town of Joshimath is situated on ancient landslide debris which has relatively low load bearing capacity. The rocks have low cohesive strength. The soil/rocks develop high pore pressure when saturated with water especially during rainy season. All these means, the land and soil there has limited capacity to support intensive human activities. But the area has seen high rate of civil/building construction, hydroelectric projects, and the widening of the Rishikesh-Badrinath National Highway (NH-7) which have made the slopes highly unstable. There have been incidents and warnings of disasters waiting to happen for several decades.

An increase in construction activities and population in and around the town in the last few decades is attributable to several reasons. As the northern dham (of Char dham established by Adi Sankaracharya), Joshimath or Jyotirmath is very important religious pilgrimage site for Hindus. The famous Badrinath and Kedarnath temples are nearby. The town serves as the base station for visiting pilgrims. The hospitality industry has grown considerably to cater to the needs of the visiting pilgrims. The town also serves as the base camp for mountaineers on the way to peaks in Himalayas. Being close to India-China border, the town is of strategic significance for security establishments and is home to Army’s cantonment serving as staging ground for personnel posted along the border with China.

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