Jagatguru Shankaracharya Jyotirmath Jyotishpeethadheeshwar Swami Avimukteshwaranand Saraswati approached the Supreme Court on January 7 through a Public Interest Litigation (PIL) on the recent land sinking episode in Joshimath, Uttarkhand. The PIL seeks the Joshimath sinking crisis to be declared as a national disaster and appeals National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) to actively assist the residents of Joshimath. It further prays for immediate intervention to support the reparation work, provide urgent relief to the people suffering threat to their life and property, financial assistance and compensation to the affected local residents. The matter was mentioned before a bench presided over by Chief Justice of India DY Chandrachud and Justice PS Narasimha. The matter has been mentioned for 10th January in the mentioning list.
The plea, filed through advocate Anjani Kumar Mishra, cited hazard to life of people due to impending cases of land subsidence, land sliding, sudden eruption of water, cracking of houses and agriculture plots which have resulted in recurrent calamities. It also pleaded for guidelines to the concerned authorities to rehabilitate the local residents of Joshimath at appropriate places, and take proactive steps to secure and preserve the spiritual, religious and cultural places, especially the Jyotirmath and adjoining sacred shrines/temples which have existed at the place since ages. It sought a direction to instantly bring a halt to construction and building work at the Tapovan Vishnugad Hydro Electric Project tunnel and not to resume till the high-level committee of geologists, hydrologists and engineers formed by the SC laid down any directions in this matter.
The gateway to Hemkund Sahib and Badrinath, Joshimath, has been officially declared as a landslide-subsidence zone, as confirmed by Chamoli District Magistrate (DM) Himanshu Khurana. The Uttarakhand CM has already issued an order for the urgent evacuation of 600 families habituated in the affected areas of Joshimath. There are a total of 4,500 buildings in Joshimath and 610 of these have formed massive cracks, making them inadequate for occupancy and habitation. A high-level review meeting on the present situation of Joshimath was also conducted on 8th January, 2023. The eight-member committee disposed to investigate the Joshimath land subsidence submitted its report, citing the reason behind the ground sinking.
The report reached at the following conclusion:
Ground samples collected previously from numerous areas around Joshimath have created a hollow space, which has contributed to land subsidence.
The foundation of the buildings is not sturdy enough, given the uneven and jagged land in certain places.
New cracks were discovered in Manoharbagh, Singhdhar and Marwari areas. Some erosion was also found in the Alokananda River bank that has resulted in land sinking.
The panel report, in its recommendations, suggested that soil testing of the affected zones should be carried out and a real-time investigation of the issue should be performed.
The report also suggested that since local residents in the affected areas are already being translocated to other places, the buildings that have formed crevices should be bulldozed and razed at the earliest.
Land Subsidence, a phenomenon in which there is a gradual settling or sudden sinking of the Earth’s surface due to removal or displacement of subsurface earth materials, is not a recent phenomenon in Joshimath.
Interestingly, nearly five decades ago, the Centre had designated MC Mishra, the then collector of Garhwal, to look into why Joshimath was sinking. Mishra had directed the team to conduct a ground survey for five days in May 1976. The panel was comprised of representatives from the Indian Army, ITBP, BRO, Shri Kedarnath Badrinath Committee and the local administration. The 1976 report submitted by the 18-member committee clarified that Joshimath is located on an old, long-standing landslide zone and could submerge if expansion continued relentlessly, and suggested that construction be barred in Joshimath. “For road repairs and other construction, it would be advisable not to remove boulders by digging or blasting the hill side…the trees are to be nurtured like children”, the report stated. The report, at that time, warned that, “Joshimath lies on an ancient landslide” and “Natural Forest cover in Joshimath area has been mercilessly destroyed by a number of agencies”.