‘Time bomb’ town sinking into ground and could totally collapse ‘anytime now’

A ticking timebomb town that is sinking into the ground could collapse "anytime now", experts have warned.

The area has always been prone to land subsidence – when earth moves vertically downwards – but experts and residents say that due to various developmental construction projects, the ground has become even more unstable.

More than 600 homes have developed cracks as they subside, forcing thousands of people out of their homes and into cramped relief camps.

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“Earthquakes and cracks on walls are normal in the mountains. We’re used to it,” said Joshimath resident Santosh.

“But I’ve never seen anything like this before," he continued. "This isn’t normal. It’s the apocalypse.”

Joshimath is not the only town facing destruction. It’s one of thousands of towns and villages in Uttarakhand state located in the 'land subsidence zone.' District officials have labelled the area as "disaster-prone".

The town of Joshimath is surrounded by glaciers. The area sees a lot of visitors, typically pilgrims or ski tourists passing through, and buildings have sprung up over the years to accommodate them.

But according to locals, the construction in the area is largely to blame for the destruction of homes and the displacement of residents.

The National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), one of the biggest power companies in India, is burrowing tunnels around the whole state of Uttarakhand to build the $364 million Tapovan Vishnugad Hydro Electric Project, supplying electricity to the area.

The majority of residents in Joshimath say the 12-kilometre tunnel dug by NTPC regularly explodes during construction, which adds to the instability of the earth.

Santosh said: “This land is not made for so much development. The authorities have to investigate these development projects to see if these links [of cracks] are true. Building anything on this land is like making a house on a mound of sand.”

NTPC deny their tunnel has anything to do with the cracks in the houses. "The tunnel is at a horizontal distance of around 1.1 kilometre away from the outer boundary of Joshimath town and vertically around 1.1 kilometre below the ground level," they claimed.

They believe the subsiding is “an old issue”, blaming the sinking ground as being due to “hill wash, natural angle of the repose, cultivation area because of seepage and soil erosion".

It is true that the problem of subsidence was first reported years ago. in 1976, a government report wrote that the land was sinking after residents complained of cracks in their houses.

The report also made clear a growing population and any construction in the area would make the matter worse. These concerns were not noted.

Saraswati Prakash Sati, a geologist who has studied the area said: “Joshimath can collapse anytime now. This town should become a lesson for hundreds of others that are sitting on a time bomb. It can go off anytime."


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