Why is Joshimath sinking?

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A beautiful Himalayan town is sinking as the residents look on helplessly! The popular hill station/pilgrimage destination in Uttarakhand is hit by a geological phenomenon known as land subsidence. 

Over the past few months, buildings in the town started developing cracks forcing the residents to abandon their homes and move to safer locations.

‘Subsidence’ is the progressive settling/lowering of the surface which happens due to loss of water, oil, natural gas, or mineral resources from the earth.

Joshimath is rich in flora and fauna and gives us a splendid view of the Himalayan ranges. The Badrinath temple which is regarded as one of the top pilgrimage spots for Hindus is just 46 kilometers away from the hilltown.

Cause of Disaster

As per the reports, Joshimath has come up on an ancient landslide site. Therefore, the fragile himalayan town could not withstand the mounting pressure/stress induced by rapid urbanization. As a result, natural water drainage of the region was disrupted, leading to uncontrolled discharge of water. 

A few days ago, people panicked and rushed out of their homes when water started seeping out of the ‘Joshimath rock’. An ‘aquifer’ had burst in the region 12 years ago as well. Underground water resources are referred to as aquifers. Reckless construction around the region has led to widespread ‘water discharge’ at places. As a result, the ground above them ’subsided’!


  • According to news reports, cracks have appeared in 559 houses at Joshimath. Roads and fields have been affected as well.
  • Incidents of poles of high tension power lines becoming slanted have been reported as well. 
  • As per the residents, even malt and apple trees have begun collapsing into the ground.
  • It is a sad state of affairs at the pilgrimage town. Out of fear, people are not sleeping indoors. Braving the chilling temperatures, people are sleeping under the open sky overnight!
  • Even though residents have been evacuated, they are demanding permanent rehabilitation from the government authorities. 
  • They are protesting for stopping all kinds of construction works in the area.
  • The residents are asking to halt the ongoing Char Dham project that aims for all-weather connectivity between the four main pilgrimage sites in India.

Fingers are also being pointed at a 12 km-long tunnel for NTPC’s hydropower project, which people claim has led to the disaster in Joshimath. It should be noted that a flash flood hit this project in 2021, killing 200 people!

Clearing the air, NTPC officials took a group of journalists to the tunnel and showed them that there were no leakages inside the structure. Earlier locals had claimed that the punctured aquifer near Joshimath was generating seepage inside the tunnel as well.

The happenings in Joshimath are the effects of several years of rampant construction on an unstable foundation. The earlier aquifer burst years ago had already made the land subsidence-prone.

Did People Know the Future of Joshimath?

A Mishra committee report of 1976 had predicted the future possibility of Joshimath sinking due to urbanization.

  • The residents who rejected the report then are now repenting.
  • Successive governments are being blamed for not taking the threats seriously.
  • The 1976 panel comprised members from the Army, ITBP, BRO, Shri Kedarnath-Badrinath Temple committee and local administration. 
  • According to oldsters, massive rain and floods from the Raini area of the Alakananda river had started eroding the soil of Joshimath years ago.

What is Next?

Authorities continue to do surveys in disaster hit regions. According to Uttarakhand CM Pushkar Dhami, the disaster management team is working round the clock to minimize the damages. He assured the safety of the residents of Joshimath.

Impact on Tourism

According to sources, there are no tourists to be seen in the town at a time which is supposed to be the ‘peak season’. 

Usually tourists flock to the beautiful Himalayan town in the months of January and February. 

People are betting on the power of nature to heal by itself!

However, experts are linking Joshimath tragedy and tourism, the influx of tourists and building bloom are being cited as the major reasons.

The future looks uncertain!

Check Your Knowledge

Answer) Underground water resources are referred to as aquifers.

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