Sinking land forced hundreds to leave India’s temple town

Lucknow – Authorities in a Himalayan town in India halted construction activities and began moving hundreds to temporary shelters after a temple collapsed and more than 600 homes were cracked due to land subsidence. officials said on Saturday.

Residents of the town of Joshimath in Uttarakhand say they have started noticing cracks in their houses, especially after the 2021 floods. No injuries were reported at the temple that collapsed late Friday, and people who lived nearby had evacuated the area the day before.

District administrator Himanshu Khurana said more than 60 families had been relocated to government relief camps. According to media reports, the number is likely to reach up to 600 families.

Television footage also showed cracks in the road, impeding the movement of vehicles.

Ranjit Singh, the state’s chief disaster management officer, said the direct cause of the cracks was “suspected to be faulty drainage systems, allowing water to seep under the houses, causing them to sink.” .

The government has offered homeless people 4,000 rupees ($50) a month for six months in Josimaat, a temple town of about 25,000 people who fall for major Hindu pilgrims and treks, located at an altitude of 1,890 meters (6,200 feet). ). circuit, Khurana said.

Tens of thousands of devotees en route to Badrinath and Him Kund Sahib, major pilgrimage sites for Hindus and Sikhs, pass through Joshimat, 490 kilometers (305 miles) northeast of New Delhi. The huge flow of pilgrims and tourists has slowed the town’s exponential expansion over the years, with massive construction of buildings and roads that some experts have linked to land subsidence. saw.

Temporarily suspended construction activities include the Chardam All-Weather Road, a major federal project connecting various Hindu pilgrimage sites, and a rope-pulled trolley to carry pilgrims and tourists at nearby Auli. projects to install a hydroelectric power station.

The region experienced devastating torrential rains (extreme rainfall in a short period of time) that not only killed hundreds in 2013, but caused severe flooding in 2021. Areas hit by frequent disasters.

“Between 2015 and mid-2021, Uttarakhand has recorded at least 7,750 extreme rainfall events and torrential downpours. It is harmful for Joshimas because it can exacerbate the vulnerability of the population,” said Kavita Upadhyay, a water policy expert who is currently a researcher in the River Rights Project at Oslo Metropolitan University.

Upadhyay, who is from Uttarakhand and lives in the area, said large infrastructure projects and an uncontrolled influx of tourists have also contributed to the land subsidence.

“The slopes of Josimart are made up of landslides. .”

A study by the Uttarakhand Disaster Management Department warns that construction by removing rocks and blowing up hillsides will lead to serious environmental damage.

Last May, resident Meera Rawat was cooking in the kitchen when she was startled by the sound of gurgling water coming from under the floor.

“That day we realized that something bad was about to happen in the town of Josimart. In September we saw a small crack in the floor. In December it spread and we vacated our house.” Mira said.


Sibi Aras, an AP writer from Bengaluru, India, contributed to this report.


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