A view of damaged pavement in an area due to landslides, in Joshimath on Saturday, Jan 7, 2023. ANI Image Credit: ANI

Chamoli/Joshimath: The Uttarakhand government on Sunday declared some areas of Joshimath as a disaster-affected area, based on the recommendations of the experts who had been surveying the houses in the holy city to identify the causes of the landslides.

The decision to declare the area of about one and a half kilometre, as ‘unsafe for living’ was taken late on Sunday evening.

Authorities in one of the holiest towns in the Indian Himalayas were evacuating panicked residents Sunday after hundreds of houses began developing yawning cracks and sinking, officials said.

The cause of the apparent subsidence in Joshimath in the northern state of Uttarakhand was unclear, but residents blamed the building of roads and tunnels for a nearby hydroelectric project.

Local official Himanshu Khurana said that at least 60 families had been relocated into shelters and many more were likely to be shifted out from their sinking dwellings.

A crack appears on a wall of a house due to landslides, in Joshimath on Sunday, Jan 8, 2023. ANI Image Credit: ANI

Residents said a much larger number had already fled their homes and that around 600 houses and hotels were sinking in the town of around 20,000 people.

Geotechnical and geophysical study of the city will be conducted for a long term solution. Guidelines will be issued for constructing buildings in areas where no cracks have appeared in the houses.

Along with this, a hydrological study will be conducted.

Disaster Management Secretary, Dr Ranjit Sinha said that Pipalkoti, Gauchar, Koti Colony, among other places have been selected for the rehabilitation of the affected.

In view of the construction of pre-fabricated houses, Sinha has sought a proposal from the Central Building Research Institute (CBRI), Roorkee.

The affected colonies have been evacuated. The Army had instructed the jawans, living in rented accommodations to vacate the premises, and they have been shifted to safer places.

Both the Indian army and the Indo-Tibetan Border Police (ITBP) have been stationed in the city.

Gateway to religious sites

Around 1,800 metres (6,000 feet) above sea level, Joshimath is a major gateway to a number of important religious sites in the Himalayas, attracting thousands of pilgrims every year.

The town also hosts a major Indian army base and a strategic road to the border with China that has also reportedly developed wide cracks.

Pillars supporting a four-kilometre cable car ropeway, one of Asia’s largest, leading to the Auli ski resort were also reportedly showing damage.

The region is prone to earthquakes and has seen a number of disasters in recent years blamed by experts on melting glaciers and untrammelled construction.

Building projects include hydroelectric plants as well as a major road improving military access to the Chinese border area and Hindu pilgrimage sites.

Joshimath is the last town on the Indo-Tibetan border, from where the Niti and Mana valleys join the border.

Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami conducts a ground inspection of the landslide-affected areas, in Joshimath on Saturday, Jan 7, 2023. ANI Image Credit: ANI pic service

Sinha apprised that some parts of the premises of Army, ITBP, NTPC and Jaypee Company were also in the landslide zones.

ITBP has been vacating the colony, while Jaypee has vacated some of its residences and NTPC is preparing to do the same.

The landslides have now been moving towards the Army and ITBP camps. Along with the collapse of the road to the camp, the border connecting Malari Highway has also caved in, which may create problems for the army in view of transportation and provision.

After the series of landslides and cracks in houses intensified in Joshimath, a team of experts and scientists, led by Sinha was constituted by Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami.

The team interacted with the locals, inspected the sites from Thursday, and submitted its report to the government after returning on Saturday evening.

Sinha said that several precautionary steps had been taken on the basis of the report.

PM Modi speaks to Uttarakhand CM

In a telephonic conversation with Uttarakhand Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Sunday inquired about the steps taken for the safety and rehabilitation of the affected residents of Joshimath in the wake of the land subsidence incident.

According to Chief Minister’s Office (CMO), Modi inquired about the progress of immediate and long-term action plans to mitigate and resolve the concerns of residents.

“PM Modi spoke to CM Pushkar Singh Dhami over the telephone and inquired about the steps taken for the safety and rehabilitation of the affected residents and the progress of the immediate and long-term action plan to solve the problem,” the Uttarakhand CMO said in a statement.

The CMO added that the Prime Minister was personally monitoring the situation in Joshimath and the ongoing work to ensure the safety of civilians in the area.

PM Modi also assured all possible assistance to save Joshimath in his telephonic conversation with CM Dhami.