Joshimath : Ignore nature’s warnings at your own peril

The preliminary report of the National Remote Sensing Centre of the Indian Space Research Organisation tells that the entire Joshimath town which is considered a gateway to shrines in the Himalayas and is of strategic significance since the Army Cantonment here is close to the China border,  may sink. The satellite images released by ISRO show that the Joshimath-Auli road is going to collapse due to the land subsidence.

As Dehradun-based staffer with the Indian Express, I extensively wrote how alarm raised by scientists and geologists for decades had been disregarded.  The early alarm bells were sounded by the Mishra Commission which warned that the eco-fragile region cannot support a high rate of building activity but just the opposite happened over the years. Hydroelectric projects and haphazard construction continued with impunity as it has become a hub of tourists headed to Badrinath, Hemkund Sahib and Shankaracharya temple.

The Dehradun-based Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology has observed, “Today’s situation is a result of a variety of reasons, both natural and man-made, because soil here is weak, consisting mostly of debris brought about by landslides and the area is also a highly seismic zone”.  The area was once under glaciers and water percolating down into the porous crystalline rocks beneath the surface has softened the rocks further.

In recent months, land subsidence has spread panic among the 10,000-odd residents in Chamoli to Josjimath who saw cracks appearing in their homes. Satellite images by the ISRO show that the Himalayan town sank 5.4 cm in just a fortnight triggered by a possible subsidence event on January 2. Between April and November 2022, Joshimath had sunk by 8.9 cm. The unfolding crisis speaks of the failure to respect the demands of the fragile Himalayan mountain system while planning and executing developmental projects.  How to save the town after the evacuation of people in the affected areas is the big question. Because lives are involved, this adds to the urgency of taking remedial sustainable solutions. This calls for mapping all other hill towns facing a similar situation.

The current issue of Tehelka carries an investigative story “Tax Evasion: ‘Actor Sachin Tendulkar’.  Tehelka SIT investigative report reveals how cricket legend Tendulkar allegedly played ‘actor’ to wangle a substantial tax relief; and how many cricketers have an uncanny knack of getting on the wrong side of the tax law.  Forget Indian cricketers, even the BCCI that runs the cricket in India has allegedly been mired in a tax evasion case – the Department of Revenue after the recovery of Rs 462 crore has asked the BCCI to pay another outstanding income tax worth Rs 1, 303 crore, according to details submitted by the Finance Ministry in Parliament. A serious issue to ponder over!