A temple collapsed in the Himalayan town of Joshimath in Uttarakhand on Friday evening, heightening fears among residents who have been camping out in the cold as over 500 houses and other structures have developed cracks due to the soil shifting.
A team of experts and scientists is stationed here for a door-to-door survey on Saturday, the day Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami is likely to visit too.
More than 3,000 people are affected, the municipality chief has said. That’s over 10 per cent of the population in the Himalayan town. Cracks run along and across the roads and are widening constantly in the holy town, an entry point for major Hindu and Sikh pilgrimages and one of the major military bases near India’s border with China.
No one was injured in the temple collapse as it was abandoned after it had developed huge cracks. The nearby town of Auli is seeing a similar problem develop; all roads to it have been closed. Also, ongoing projects, including a hydel power plant and the Char Dham road, have been halted.
The state government has said people whose houses are affected and have to vacate will get Rs 4,000 a month as rent for the next six months from the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund.
On a main road in Joshimath, a tilted hotel building leaning onto the one next to it is emblematic of how unabated development has led to cracks, literally, across the hill town in Chamoli district.
“For precaution, a team of the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) has been deployed in Joshimath. It is important to stay alert as the area witnesses land subsidence,” said LN Mishra, Chief Development Officer, Chamoli.
At least 40 families have already moved out as soil subsidence gets worse by the day in a region that’s among the most susceptible to earthquakes.
The Chief Minister is set to visit after protests by locals who demand a solution or adequate rehabilitation. Experts have been deployed and the state’s BJP government says it’ll do whatever needs to be done after getting their reports.
Climate change and constant infrastructure development are to blame, say locals.
“Tunnels being dug for hydel power plants have led to this,” alleged a local hotelier, “And they continue to blast through rocks to widen roads, build bypasses, even very close to our town.”
He added, “We are living in constant fear. People light fires and stay outside in the cold nights as they fear their houses or hotels might collapse anytime.”
On the government working on solutions, he said, “Steps should have bene taken many years ago as this is not a new phenomenon. Successive governments have ignored that big projects lead to destruction.”
Officially, 561 establishments have reported cracks, according to the Chamoli district administration. Operations of Hotel View and Malari Inn, the one leaning on a building next to it, have been restricted, the statement added.
Others continue to live in the cracked houses or have moved in with relatives or friends.
The district administration has already asked Hindustan Construction Company Limited (HCC) and National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) to be prepared to shelter affected families.
The town, over 6,000 feet high, is considered a gateway for several climbing expeditions in the Himalayas. These include the trek to the pilgrimage centres of Badrinath and Hemkunt Sahib, and to the Valley of Flowers.
Home to the Jyotirmath monastery, it is among the cardinal institutions of Hinduism.