DEHRADUN: Residents of Joshimath, already battling ominous cracks and crevices that have appeared in their houses, roads and agricultural fields, were caught in the grip of fear after they heard sounds from beneath the surface of the ground on Monday midnight. Alarmed, many of the families were evacuated to safer locations on Wednesday.
Nearly 26 families were shifted out of their houses; more are in line. Compounding the anxiety of panicky locals, who have been petitioning the government to stop all constructions in their “sinking” town, an aquifer burst in an area around the JP residential colony in Marwari, leading to fresh anxiety that the hillside on which the town is situated is going to collapse.
Residents noticed water oozing out from the ‘Joshimath rock’ on Tuesday, sending them into a frenzy. The town is located on an old landslide, thus making it vulnerable. About 12 years ago, another aquifer had burst and led to outflow of water in the town.
Nand Kishore Joshi, district disaster management officer, said that the families whose houses have developed major cracks and become risky for living were evacuated first. They have been given temporary accommodation at a night shelter of the municipality and at a government-run school. Food and lodging facilities are being provided.
Speaking about the harrowing experience, one of the evacuated residents, Vivek Rawat, 35, told TOI, “Horrifying sounds could be heard coming from beneath the surface of the earth on Monday night and more around midnight. We ran out of our houses and stayed in the open. We are a family of six, the youngest member being a 6-month-old and an elderly person aged 65. The administration has moved us to a room at the nagar palika.”
Thakur Rana, 63, couldn’t control his tears while narrating the ordeal. “My wife dragged me out of the house at 2am as she could hear noises from beneath the surface. I froze, unable to act as we stay alone here and our kids are in Dehradun and France. They said they will take us with them. I don’t want to leave my hometown, but what choice do we have?”
A geologist in the Supreme Court-appointed high-powered committee for the all-weather Char Dham Road Project, Navin Juyal, who was among the independent experts to survey Joshimath in June 2021, had highlighted the vulnerability of the town in the report.
He told TOI on Wednesday, “The entire stretch from Suneel to Marwari is a natural route for ‘water movement’ and any kind of construction activity will lead to water accumulation, thus triggering land subsidence. It needed urgent attention from the authorities and we had highlighted the same in June 2021.”
The state government is all set to send its high-level team led by Ranjit Sinha, secretary of disaster management department, along with seven more experts from State Disaster Management Authority (SDMA), landslide mitigation centre, IIT-Roorkee, Geological Survey of India and National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) to visit Joshimath to take stock of the situation.
This came even as thousands on Wednesday took out a rally seeking permanent rehabilitation and a stop to works being carried out by NTPC until a technical team does a detailed study on why Joshimath is sinking and what can be done about it. Locals under the banner of Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti have decided to intensify their agitation from Thursday and announced a gherao of the secretary of disaster management team that is scheduled to visit the town on Thursday.
“We will not allow anyone to enter Joshimath unless the state government assures us of immediate relief,” said Manoj Negi, a resident who participated in the march.