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In Joshimath of Chamoli district in Uttarakhand, the phenomenon of massive land subsidence and building collapses has sent jitters not only among the local residents but also the central and state governments. In the phenomenon that was in display on the way to the pilgrimage centres of Badrinath and Hemakund Sahib, 610 out of 4,500 buildings were rendered uninhabitable by major cracks. Joshimath has been declared an area prone to earth sinking and 600 families have been relocated. The Prime Minister's Office (PMO) has directly convened a high-level meeting and assigned an expert committee to investigate the issue. Even then, the high-ranking officials, including the district collector, are washing their hands off maintaining that they do not know the cause of the disaster. The authorities are pretending, despite people's pointing it out, not to see that the reason for nature's behaviour is the exploitation of soil and resources for energy generation companies. Even though they complained to the Chief Minister a month ago pointing out that massive explosions were causing the cracks, that did not open their eyes.

All the buildings and land in Joshimath did not explode overnight. Recent history is witness to the massive encroachment of the ecologically sensitive Himalayan ecosystem in the Uttarakhand hills. After experiencing a landslide half a century ago, the government had appointed an 18-member panel headed by the then Garhwal Collector M.C. Mishra to study the incident and submit a report. The main recommendation of the report was that Joshimath is an area with no solid rock, which has been subject to landslides since ancient times, and if heavy development activities are carried out there, buildings and land will continue to sink, and so heavy construction work should be banned. The committee had also said that since it is an earthquake-prone area, only controlled construction work should be carried out with sufficient planning. And whenever natural calamities occurred in Uttarakhand from time to time, the authorities were alerted to this matter by experts. Yet mega-projects such as multi-storied buildings, Asia's longest and largest ropeway, new roads as part of the Char Dham project, the 420 MW Vishnuprayag Hydropower Project and the 520 MW Tapovan Vishnugad Hydropower Project by the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) kept coming up one after the other. All this was built by splitting the land. The BJP government in the state has thrown away all the recommendations of the expert committee in the greed for development and money and dragged the tragedies along the way depriving the people of proper habitat. It was only recently, that is on Saturday, January 7th, when Swami Avimukteshwaranand Saraswati approached the Supreme Court seeking a way to save thousands of people from the disaster that the Dhami government of the state woke up to the matter. However, the reports that the government has kept aside as trash for so long proves that the expert committee that is being cobbled together now is not going to be of much use.

Uttarakhand, as the land with many Hindu pilgrimage centres has also a name of Deva Bhumi (land of God). BJP followers are the people who uphold this more. However, they have no qualms about launching development projects by dividing the Deva Bhumi along the middle or causing misery to humans. They are more interested in using such holy names to create fissures among people. Before the Joshimath eruption, Uttarakhand was in the throes of yet another exodus. The Uttarakhand High Court ordered an overnight eviction of half a lakh people from 4,000 families who had been living in the five wards of Haldwani Banphoolpura for more than half a century with proper records and documents. It was the occupants who had documented possession since half a century ago and are still paying tax and other levies who were told to vacate the land, while its very ownership is yet unclear, whether it is revenue or railway land. In support of this eviction move, the Hindutva parties and the mainstream media came out with slogans like 'Bhujihad on Devbhumi' and 'Second Shaheen Bagh'. Even there, the government not only failed to come to the rescue of the people, but under the pretext of the High Court verdict, came forward with racial zeal to throw them to the street. Thus, if any one wants an answer to the question where the ambitions of development trampling the soil and people will take us, the answer is Uttarakhand.

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TAGS:Joshimath Uttarakhand earth sinking and cracking Vishnuprayag Hydropower Project Chamol Prahlad Joshi 
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