Land subsidence in Joshimath (Uttarakhand), is a grave reminder of the harm that can be caused by reckless infrastructure development and the role of climate change in exacerbating the situation. Over 60 families living in uninhabitable houses have already been moved to temporary relief centers, with at least 90 more families set to be evacuated. Of the 4,500 buildings in Joshimath, 610 have developed large cracks and are no longer fit for habitation.
The primary cause of the land subsidence in Joshimath is believed to be the National Thermal Power Corporation’s Tapovan Vishnugad Hydro Power Project, though climate change is also a contributing factor. Climate scientist Anjal Prakash, one of the authors of the latest report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), stated that the project has contributed to the caving incident in Joshimath and highlighted the importance of careful planning in the fragile Himalayan ecosystem. Prakash also emphasized the role of climate change as a force-multiplier, citing the increased frequency of disaster events in Uttarakhand in recent years.
The land subsidence in Joshimath has had a significant impact on the city and its residents. In addition to the forced evacuations, hundreds of houses have developed cracks, rendering them uninhabitable. The situation is expected to worsen, with at least 90 more families set to be evacuated.
- Professor Y P Sundriyal, Head of the Department of Geology at HNB Garhwal University, called for the implementation of strong rules and regulations to prevent future disasters, stating that most parts of Uttarakhand are located in seismic zones IV and V, which are prone to earthquakes, and that climate change is worsening the situation with more extreme weather events.
- Given the cost associated with the environmental and ecological damage caused by hydropower projects, Anjal Prakash suggested looking into alternative energy sources as a solution. He emphasized the need for planning at the bio-regional scale, taking into account what is allowed and what is not in order to protect the environment.
The situation in Joshimath is not new, as incidents of land subsidence were also reported in the 1970s. In 1978, a panel led by Garhwal Commissioner Mahesh Chandra Mishra submitted a report stating that major construction works should not be carried out in the city and the Niti and Mana valleys due to their location on moraines. The IPCC’s 2019 and 2022 reports similarly noted the region’s high susceptibility to disasters.
Given the cost associated with the environmental and ecological damage caused by hydropower projects, Prakash suggested looking into alternative energy sources as a solution. He emphasized the need for planning at the bio-regional scale, taking into account what is allowed and what is not in order to protect the environment. The situation in Joshimath serves as a cautionary tale of the consequences of disregarding the fragility of the Himalayan ecosystem and the importance of careful planning and regulation.