“We are left with one option now. The settlements have to be removed from the affected areas,” says Dr Naveen Juyal, hinting at the harsh reality of the “sinking town” of Joshimath in Uttarakhand.
A geologist with expertise in the Himalayan region, Juyal says the town has a burden higher than its capacity and it must be reduced, pointing to the Mishra committee report which had warned against heavy settlement, construction and disturbance of the landscape.
“The area that is sinking right now is in the middle of Joshimath,” he said. “It is a hill slope facing north and the affected part goes from Sunil to Marwari (the two wards of Joshimath municipality). It is a natural slope. In the past there was a landslide which filled the trough of this slope. Through this slope, all the drains and sources of natural water take water to the Alaknanda river.”
Dr Saraswati Prakash Sati, another geologist with years of experience studying the Himalayan region, agrees. “No engineering method or technology can be used in that area right now to stop the subsidence immediately. We don’t have a magic wand when many parts of the slope are subsiding. Yes, there is definitely technology available to reduce the load carrying capacity by safely removing the construction done there.”
In a conversation with Newslaundry, the two geologists also warn of the impact of climate change, especially in the seismic zone in Joshimath. They talk about how the higher Himalayas can wreak havoc on terrain with the melting of glaciers.
“We know that the main central thrust passes through this area and if you see the history of the past 200 years this (Joshimath) area has seen multiple cloudburst incidents. The instability of this area is bound to accelerate. The prediction is very difficult but one thing we all can do and that is to keep us safe, knowing very well the character of the terrain and the reality associated with climate change. The higher Himalayas are going to behave very arrogantly,” says Juyal.
Sati says research published in Nature Geoscience had warned of melting glaciers leaving behind loose debris called moraines that stand perpendicular to the direction of the valley. “In the increasing phase of climate change, extreme weather events will be more powerful and their frequency will increase. In such a situation, all this debris comes down and brings disaster. Joshimath is already in a sliding and subsiding condition and it is more likely that this crisis will affect other areas as well.”
This report was on Newslaundry Hindi. It’s part of the NL Sena series on the Joshimath crisis and other calamities waiting to happen in Uttarakhand. .