by Atul Sati
From the time land subsidence and cracks appeared in houses in November 2021, the people of Joshimath town have been on a path of struggle. After nearly a year of the people’s movement led by the Joshimath Bacha Sangharsh Morcha, the Dhami-led Uttarakhand government agreed to accept the demands of the people, which included adequate rehabilitation package, a halt to the on-going disastrous projects in Joshimath-Vishnugad and the Helang by-pass road.
A few months after the Joshimath tragedy received national attention, the relief camps came to be closed down and people had to return to their damaged homes. The situation in Joshimath has nevertheless worsened. The heavy rains lashing through Uttarakhand has made the situation more vulnerable for the people, who are living in fear. Land subsidence has aggravated and there have been fresh landslides in many places, with more than 100 new houses developing cracks.
The government initially counted 868 houses with moderate to severe cracks, however, these numbers are much higher. The situation in areas considered as ‘sensitive’ or ‘danger’ zones has become much severe. In the recent rains, many people spent their nights in constant fear of an impending disaster. Areas which were not initially identified as dangerous by experts and the government are now under severe risk of massive land subsidence.
In January 2023, a team of scientists from eight government institutions conducted a comprehensive survey of Joshimath, and the findings of which was handed over to the National Disaster Management Authority in February 2023. Despite assurances of the Chief Minister, this report has not been made public till date. Fear and apprehension of safety has increased among the people as the government is not being transparent with the people. The findings of this report could give an idea of the extent of the tragedy, which would help people be better prepared. Moreover, the entire process of rehabilitation depends on this report. The double engine BJP Government has made the report a classified document and is using its power to threaten other organisations and scientists. Furthermore, the NDMA has gagged government institutions from providing scientific data on Joshimath. In fact, the national body sank the ISRO-NRSC report which demonstrated the rapid land subsidence since April 2022 in Joshimath.
The disaster in Joshimath is a result of severe environmental degradation which was enabled by the State without striking a proper balance between environment and human development. This was reflective in the disaster of 2013 wherein more than 5,000 people lost their lives and the disaster that took place in Rini in 2021. The government has failed to learn its lessons and moves forward with its agenda of corporate exploitation of the environment.
The unfettered and uncontrolled exploitation will prove dangerous not only to the residents of Joshimath, but for the rest of the country as well. The government’s open facilitation of the loot of natural resources in the name of development, along with the recently passed Forest Conservation Act, will only exacerbate the crisis.
The Joshimath people’s movement has played an important role in exposing the anti-people and anti-environment policies of the government, especially in the Himalayan States. People are demanding a development model that preserves nature and the fragile ecosystem, and not one which is based on greed and prioritises profit over people. The Himalayas have given us a warning – if the corporate exploitation of the environment continues, the destruction that will follow will be severe and unprecedented.