Who Tunnels Through A Sinking Town?

Source: The post is based on the article “Who Tunnels Through A Sinking Town?” published in The Times of India on 7th January 2023.

Syllabus: GS 3 – Disaster and disaster management.

Relevance: About the construction work in the Himalayan region.

News: The Himalayan town Joshimath is under tremendous stress, and a portion of it may sink.

About Joshimath

Joshimath, or Jyotirmath, is a temple town and a municipality in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district.

The math or monastery is one of the four cardinal institutions founded by Adi Shankaracharya in the four corners of India. The cantonment at Joshimath is one of the closest to the China border.

Thus, the town has both religious and strategic significance.

Read more: Jolt From Joshimath – Govts have finally woken up to a hill town being on the brink of an ecological disaster. But more needs to be done
What has led to this disaster in Joshimath?

Chamoli disaster: The glacial avalanche known as the Chamoli disaster led to flash floods in the Rishiganga and Dhaulganga rivers in February 2021. The two rivers are tributaries of the Ganga.

The disaster killed around 200 people, including workers trapped in the Tapovan Vishnugad hydropower plant’s tunnel on the Dhaulganga river.

-According to Uttarakhand State Disaster Management Authority, heavy downpour, cloudburst, rock fall, debris flow, avalanche, flood/ flash floods occurred in many locations of the state. The research explains that these disasters mostly relate to a) meteorological regime changes, b) unusual rainfall patterns, and c) indiscriminate human actions in high-risk areas.

Findings of MC Mishra committee: In 1964, the government had appointed MC Mishra committee to find out why Joshimath was sinking. The committee found that a) Joshimath is situated in an old landslide zone, b) Joshimath could sink if rampant development is unchecked.

The committee recommended that substantial construction should be prohibited in the vicinity of Joshimath.

-Despite the region’s geological and environmental sensitivity, numerous hydroelectric projects including the Vishnugad hydel project have been approved in areas such as Joshimath and Tapovan.

-In 2010, two private researchers found that the tunnelling process in projects punctures the water-bearing strata and causes harm in water gushing out and flooding the area.

What are the threats posed by climate change on Himalayan ecosystem?

The Himalayan mountains are one of the youngest mountains of the world and therefore they are fragile and unstable. Small changes in the weather and climate pattern affect the mountain system strongly.

IPCC reports have made the following observations a) Due to global warming, the region has been experiencing extreme weather events as recorded in 2021-22. The number of extreme rainfall events that have hit Uttarakhand was unprecedented.

A transformative change in both thinking and the patterns of growth is necessary.


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