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Joshimath City Sinks – Causes, Impact, Significance. Explained Simply

Written by Sthitee Mohanty.

Joshimath is built on landslide rubble and has been gradually sinking due to land subsidence.

By I Kid You Not , in Current Stories Explained , at January 14, 2023 Tags: ,

Written by Sthitee Mohanty

Joshimath in the state of Uttarakhand city sinks, highlighting the disadvantages of rapid unplanned land development.  

Here’s all you need to know about Joshimath’s sinking issue

First, what’s happening…

Joshimath, a city in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand, is sinking. Buildings in the city have developed large and noticeable cracks and many of these have had to be evacuated.

Why’s that?

The main reason, say experts is uncontrolled construction in this landslide-prone and seismically sensitive area.

Here’s more about the sinking.

Joshimath is built on landslide rubble and has been gradually sinking due to land subsidence. The sinking increased at an alarming rate this January. This rate increase is caused by the construction boom in the city, due to a huge influx of tourists, pilgrims, etc.

Joshimath is located in a fragile mountainous region. Unplanned building, drilling, soil evacuation, etc has put great stress on this land. 

Satellite images show that the city has sunk by 5.4 centimetres in the first twelve days of January. Though the cracks in the building walls are not new, it is the acceleration of their appearance that is a cause for concern.

What is land subsidence?

Land subsidence is the sinking of land due to underground material movement. It is commonly caused by increased groundwater withdrawal and rapid urbanization. It is the cause behind Joshimath’s sinking. 

The subsurface of the city consists of loose soil. Gaps exist in the soil structure, widened by the uncontrolled withdrawal of groundwater for human usage. 

The vibrations and force of heavy construction put stress on these gaps. The gaps collapse on each other, leading to the sinking of the city.  

Climate change has exacerbated (made worse) this sinking.

Importance of Joshimath City

Joshimath is an important gateway city. It provides an entry point to many important Himalayan trekking routes. 

Roads to holy sites like Badrinath for Hindu pilgrims can be accessed through this city.

It also provides a point of access to the strategic Indo-China border.

A large number of visitors to this town have thus led to an increase in unregulated urban development.

What caused the sinking?

The rubble the city is located on has been destabilized because of the following reasons: 

  • Land subsidence effect
  • Poor drainage and groundwater facilities
  • Heavy Construction
  • Rapid landscape development

Unplanned infrastructure development is thus a significant problem in this city.

The sinking of Joshimath has turned up the heat on two major construction projects: 

  • The NTPC Tapovan Vishnugad hydel power plant project
  • The Government of India Char Dham road project

Many Uttarakhand cities fall victim to the ecological disturbances caused by the construction of hydropower projects. Though such development is necessary, it should not come at the cost of human lives and the environment.

Joshimath is quite important in the Char Dham circuit. Yet the construction of wide roads for easier pilgrimage has put Joshimath in a lot of trouble.

Activities like drilling and underground construction have strained the city’s delicate land substructure.

Residents’ concerns

Till now, 610 buildings have cracks in the wall. 60 families have already been evacuated to temporary relief centers. 

An entire city of people has been displaced because of this sinking.  As more cracks appear, more families need to be moved away.

Ecological repercussions

The sinking of Joshimath reveals the fragility of the Himalayan ecosystem. Unregulated exploitation of the city’s natural resources has put it in danger.

The continuous felling of forests and blockage of mountain streams has increased soil erosion in the region. This further undermines the city’s shaky foundations.

What now?

Joshimath has been declared a landslide-subsidence zone.

There will be demolition of the buildings with cracks on them. Two hotels will be demolished.

The evacuation of residents continues from this city now deemed unfit for habitation. All construction has been put to a halt.

Cracks are appearing in the building walls of nearby towns as well. 

Joshimath’s woes highlight the dangers of unlawful construction that ignore sensitive ecosystems, hurrying to fulfill the large demands of an ever-increasing population.


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Headline image source: Vaibhav78545, CC BY-SA 4.0 creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

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