On 3 January, residents of the city awoke to discover that the cracks in buildings, roadways and agriculture fields had widened considerably. This caused some buildings to be deemed unfit for inhabitance due to their unstable structure.
Over sixty families have been relocated because their houses have been deemed uninhabitable, and this is likely to get worse in the coming months and years.
What is Land-Subsidence? Land-subsidence is the vertical downward displacement of the Earth's surface. This is generally caused by insufficient supports from under the Earth's surface. As of this incident, cracks and fissures have appeared in nearly 600 buildings, in roadways, and in agricultural fields.
Floors of buildings have started to sink and due to unstable foundations many buildings have begun to tilt.
Why is this happening? Joshimath is one of 395 villages that have been identified to be situated in the disaster-prone belt of Uttarakhand, which spans over 12 districts.
Warnings about the instability of the region date as far back as 1976, when the Mishra Commission declared the area unsuitable for construction through blasting or removing boulders.
Joshimath, a major tourist spot is considered the 'Gateway' to Badrinath and Hemkund Sahib and has thus undergone rapid expansion with a constant influx of tourists and pilgrims.
A survey was conducted in 2021, on request of a Supreme Court appointed panel which concluded that the city was built on landslide material.
Geologists speculate that the major cause of this rapid land-subsidence may be due to the construction of the National Thermal Power Corporation’s (NTPC) Tapovan-Vishnugad 520 MW hydropower project and the all-weather Char Dham road.
"I am very much convinced that the Joshimath caving incident is caused by the hydropower project which has been operational in building the tunnel and was the major cause of concern for the residents. It has shown that water which has gushed out is from a fractured zone which has been punctured by the tunnel that has been leading to the devastating situation that we are in today."Anjal Prakash, Research Director and Adjunct Associate Professor, Bharti Institute of Public Policy, Indian School of Business and Lead Author for IPCC Reports
What's going on now? The National Disaster Management Department (NDMA) sent a team of experts that concluded the situation was dangerous due to new water leaks and tilting buildings.
"Water coming from underground is dangerous as it's creating a vacuum, causing sinking. We've to evacuate and relocate those affected. We've to regulate and make stringent building bylaws. We'll issue a government order on what kind of housing structures should be constructed here," Disaster Management Secretary Ranjit Sinha told ANI.
Construction on the NTPC hydropower project and all-weather char-dham road have been halted 'until further orders.'
Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Singh Dhami has listed rehabilitation and relief work for the residents of Joshimath, who have been temporarily relocated to hotels and homestays in the surrounding villages.
(Our on-ground climate journalism needs your insights, ideas, and financial support - as we cover the biggest crisis of our times. Become a Q-Insider so we can bring more such stories to light.)