Joshimath: Reason why we need Sustainable development

Joshimath: Reason why we need Sustainable development 

Joshimath, also known as Jyotirmath, is a small town located in the Indian state of Uttarakhand. It is situated at an altitude of 1,890 meters above sea level and is known for its historical and cultural significance. However, in recent years, the town has been facing a major problem - sinking. In this article, we will take a closer look at the location, history, culture, and reasons behind the sinking of Joshimath.

It is home to one of the four cardinal pīthas established by Adi Shankaracharya. 
It is also of great strategic importance to the Indian armed forces and is home to one of the Army's most important cantonments.

It is the permanent station of "The Garhwal Scouts", the scout battalion of the GARHWAL RIFLES. It is the closest army station to the Indo-Tibetan Border. It was used as a base camp for the rescue of the victims of the 2013 Kedarnath Floods.

Tapovan has situated 10 km from Joshimath. It has natural hot water springs. The river Dhauliganga is visible from this spot.

Location and History

Joshimath is located in the Chamoli district of Uttarakhand and is situated at the confluence of the Alaknanda and Dhauliganga rivers. It is one of the four mathas (monasteries) established by the 8th-century Indian philosopher and saint Adi Shankara. The town is considered to be one of the holiest places in the Hindu religion and is visited by thousands of pilgrims every year.

Joshimath has a rich history and has played an important role in the development of Indian culture and religion. It was a major center of learning and scholarship in ancient times and was visited by many prominent saints and scholars. The town is also known for its temples and shrines, including the famous Narsingh temple, which is dedicated to Lord Vishnu.


Joshimath has a unique culture that is influenced by its religious and historical significance. The town is known for its rich tradition of music and dance, which is an important part of the local culture. The people of Joshimath are also known for their strong sense of community and hospitality. They have a deep respect for their tradition and culture and are always happy to share it with visitors.


As of the 2011 India census, there is a total of 3,898 families residing in Joshimath city. The total population of Joshimath is 16,709 out of which 9,988 are males and 6,721 are females. 
Thus, the Average Sex Ratio of Joshimath is 673. 

The population of Children of age 0–6 years in Joshimath city is 2103 which is 13% of the total population. There are 1127 male children and 976 female children between the ages of 0–6 years. Thus, as per the Census 2011, the Child Sex Ratio of Joshimath is 866 which is greater than Average Sex Ratio (673). 

As per the Census 2011, the literacy rate of Joshimath is 91.3% up from 77% in 2001. 
Thus, Joshimath has a higher literacy rate compared to the 82.7% of its own district, Chamoli. The male literacy rate is 84.5% and the female literacy rate is 72.8% in Joshimath. 
Joshimath had a population of 13,202, according to the 2001 census.

Sinking of Joshimath

The appearance of cracks on many roads and houses across Joshimath, due to land subsidence, is neither a new phenomenon in this region — nor a reversible one. Such cracks have been observed in and around the town for several years now although this time, experts say, they are deeper than ever adding to growing anxiety and concern.

In recent years, Joshimath has been facing a major problem - sinking. The town is sinking at an alarming rate, with some areas sinking as much as 10 centimeters per year. The reasons behind this phenomenon are varied and complex, but the main cause is believed to be the excessive extraction of groundwater.

The town of Joshimath is located in a seismically active zone, which means that it is vulnerable to earthquakes. The excessive extraction of groundwater has led to a decrease in the water table, making the soil weaker and more susceptible to earthquakes. This, in turn, has led to the sinking of the town.

Another reason behind the sinking of Joshimath is the deforestation in the surrounding areas. Trees play an important role in maintaining the water table and preventing soil erosion. The cutting down of trees in the surrounding areas has led to the loss of soil stability, which has further contributed to the sinking of the town.

Geographical reasons

Ancient landslide site –
  • According to the 1976 Mishra Committee report, Joshimath is a deposit of sand and stone, it's not the main rock.
  • It lies on an ancient landslide. 
  • The report added that undercutting by river currents of Alaknanda and Dhauliganga is also playing their part in bringing landslides. 
  • These rivers wash away debris and thus, start cutting the edges of mountains and inhabited areas.

Prone to Earthquakes –
  • Joshimath falls under the highest seismic hazard Zone V as it experiences continuous seismogenic stresses. 
  • Joshimath almost sits on the Vaikrita Thurst (VT), a tectonic fault line. The town is also very close to the main geological fault lines, Main Central Thrust (MCT), and Pandukeshwar Thrust (PT). 
  • Seismic energy generation due to microearthquakes may have weakened the strength of the rocks as Joshimath is located in the earthquake rupture zone of the 1999 Chamoli earthquake, they said. 
  • Climatic factors such as excessive precipitation and the flow of water from mountains into massive cracks and fractures in the sub-surface rocks lead to the widening of cracks and hastening the slip in rock material.
The impact of extreme rainfall events is visible in the latest satellite data, which shows that mountain streams have expanded their channels and changed course, thereby inducing more slope instability in an already fragile belt.
Scattered rocks in the area are covered with old landslide debris comprising boulders, gneissic rocks, and loose soil, with a low bearing capacity. These gneissic rocks are highly weathered and have a low cohesive value with a tendency of high pore pressure when saturated with water, especially during monsoons. 

Improper water drainage –
  • Experts and USDMA pointed out reasons for the increase in ground seepage of water from surface, a probable cause for subsidence.
  • First, on-surface anthropogenic activities have blocked natural water drainage systems, forcing water to find new drainage routes.
  • Second, Joshimath town does not have sewage and wastewater disposal system.
  • The seepage reduces the shear strength of the overburdened soil. 
  • Construction Activities – 
  • Increased construction, hydroelectric projects, and the widening of the National Highways have made the slopes highly unstable in the last couple of decades.
  • Deforestation

Problems in Joshimath

  • The soil here is weak, comprising mostly of debris brought about by landslides,
  • The area is also a highly seismic zone.
  • Unplanned construction,
  • Population pressure,
  • Tourist infrastructure,
  • Obstruction to natural flows of water,
  • Hydel power projects
The first warning signs were sounded in the year 1976 M C Mishra committee report that highlighted the dangers of unplanned development in this area and identified the natural vulnerabilities. After that, there have been several studies, all flagging similar concerns. But the town has grown several times since then. It is now the hub of tourists headed to at least three important shrines — Badrinath, Hemkund Sahib, and Shankaracharya temple — as a result of which major infrastructure development has taken place. The problem has not been so much that these activities have been carried out as they have been done in an unplanned, and often unscientific, manner.

The main problem in Joshimath has been the fact that the town has come up on relatively loose soil, deposited by landslides triggered by earthquakes. There are lots of loose soft rocks, moraine (material left behind by retreating glaciers), and sediments. The area also falls in a highly seismic zone, and experiences regular tremors, making the topsoil unstable.

Government sources said experts are still investigating whether NTPC tunnels could be the cause of the sinking incidents in the city, where four out of nine wards were affected. The survey team also listed more than 600 houses that have suffered damage so far. NTPC is building two tunnels as part of its hydroelectric project in the area, which has been opposed by geologists saying that if the tunneling work is not delayed, Joshimath, the gateway to Badrinath and Hemkund Sahib, may sink. The Center has deployed its teams from the National Disaster Management Authority, National Institute of Disaster Management, and National Disaster Response Force, while experts from IIT Roorkee, Geological Survey of India, Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, National Institute of Hydrology and Central Building Research Institute are studying the situation for the development of short-term and long-term plans. Experts have expressed an urgent need to find a passage for the water flowing out of the ground. Experts have also highlighted the lack of enforcement of building codes, which leads to unplanned settlements and weak structures, not realizing the carrying capacity of the city, which witnesses a high influx of tourists every summer. The damaged houses can be permanently removed and the population shifted to a safer place after the implementation of the landslide zone map, sources said. State authorities have been asked to carry out a building vulnerability assessment and possible repairs and retrofitting in less affected zones. Preliminary reports shared with the center also said that the current situation can also be blamed on haphazard and densely constructed buildings in the city with little regard for disaster vulnerability. The high population density in a relatively small area and the massive influx of tourists led to deforestation and the creation of buildings in zones unsuitable for living with missing sewage. Experts said that "subsurface ground movement" had led to cracks appearing in buildings in the areas.

Landslides, a Common incident in Joshimath

Around 309 “fully or partially road-blocking landslides” along the 247 km road between Rishikesh and Joshimath in Uttarakhand have reportedly been identified in a study conducted by a team of Indian and foreign scientists. According to the study, an average of 1.25 landslides per km between the Rishikesh-Joshimath stretch were identified by scientists.

The new landslides, which have been mainly triggered by rain, road widening, and building, are “often shallow and small but which nevertheless inflict fatalities, severe damage to infrastructure and traffic disruption” as per the study, according to a report by Times of India.

Almost 50 years ago, the Center commissioned MC Mishra, then Garhwal Collector, to investigate why Joshimath was sinking. The report submitted by the 18-member committee could not have been more prophetic. He made it clear that Joshimath was located in an old landslide zone and could sink if development continued unabated and recommended that construction in Joshimath be banned.

Below are some of the observations made by the 1976 M C Mishra committee report:

Joshimath lies on an ancient landslide, resting on a deposit of sand and stone, not rock. The Alaknanda and Dhauli Ganga rivers play their role in triggering landslides by eroding the river banks and mountain margins. Increased construction activity and a growing population are believed to have contributed to frequent landslides in the area, the Mishra Committee Report of 1976 pointed out.

"Joshimath is a deposit of sand and stone – not a main rock – and therefore was not suitable for a town. Vibrations caused by blasting, heavy traffic, etc. will lead to an imbalance of natural factors…” the report said.

Lack of proper drainage facilities also leads to landslides. The existence of seepage pits, which allow water to slowly seep into the ground, is responsible for creating voids between the soil and boulders. This leads to water seepage and soil erosion, the report said.
The most important preventive measure she proposed was the imposition of restrictions on heavy construction. Construction should be permitted only after examining the bearing capacity of the soil and the stability of the construction site, there should also be restrictions on the excavation of slopes.

It stated that it was not recommended to remove boulders by digging or blasting the hillside during road repairs and other construction work. In landslide areas, rocks and boulders should also not be removed from the bottom of the hill, as this would remove toe support and increase the possibility of landslides. Cracks that have formed on the slopes should be sealed. The tip of a landslide is its lowest point.

It also advised against the felling of trees in the landslide zone and said extensive plantation work should be done in the area, especially between Marwari and Joshimath, to conserve soil and water resources.

It said that the felling of trees to supply the township with wood and firewood must be strictly regulated and that alternative sources of fuel must be available to local people. Farming on slopes should be avoided. Water seepage in the area is profuse, therefore, to prevent further landslides in the future, open rainwater seepage must be stopped by constructing a pucca drainage system. Roads should be metalled and without drainage channels that drain water from the road surface. Water should not accumulate in any depression, and drains should be built to divert it to safe areas, the report said. To prevent erosion of the river bank, cement blocks should be placed at vulnerable spots on the bank, he said. Overhanging boulders at the base of hills should have suitable support and measures should be taken to prevent erosion and river. River training is the construction of structures that guide the flow of the river.

A few days ago, the government set up an eight-member expert panel, which recommended the demolition of houses in the area with maximum damage, the selection of areas that have become habitable, and the priority relocation of people.

Joshimath crisis – Top Developments

The Supreme Court on Monday will hear a plea seeking the court’s intervention to declare the crisis in Uttarakhand’s Joshimath as a national disaster. The situation in Joshimath remains grim as cracks running through the holy town of Uttarakhand keep on widening. With many homes and hotels becoming uninhabitable, hundreds of people were evacuated to safe locations.

A team from the Prime Minister’s Office visited disaster-hit areas of Joshimath in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli and inspected the situation, an official said on Sunday. “A team headed by Mangesh Ghildiyal had come from the Prime Minister’s Office to visit the disaster-hit areas of Joshimath, mainly the Joshimath Auli ropeway tower which has cracks and is closed for the time being,” District Magistrate of Chamoli, Himanshu Khurana said, according to news agency ANI.

Two more hotels were dangerously leaning towards each other while wider cracks appeared near the Auli ropeway and in other areas of land subsidence-hit Joshimath on Sunday. Wider cracks have appeared near the Joshimath-Auli ropeway whose operation was suspended over a week ago when land subsidence aggravated. The 4.5 km ropeway, considered one of Asia’s largest, connects Joshimath located at 6000 ft with the skiing destination of Auli at an altitude of 9000 feet.

Also, the flow of water increased from a suspected underground channel burst in JP Colony in the Marwari area of the town after a temporary decline a couple of days back. Muddy water has been percolating down from it constantly since January 2 but experts are not sure about its origins.
Two adjacent hotels Malari Inn and Mount View which were declared unsafe were demolished. Around 100 meters from the site, two more hotels – Snow Crest and Comet – have tilted dangerously towards each other and have been vacated as a precautionary measure.

Several state-run institutions including ISRO have been directed by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) and the Uttarakhand government not to interact with media or share information on social media on the Joshimath situation without prior approval.

The direction came after satellite images released by the Indian Space Research Organisation showed the rapid rate of subsidence in Joshimath between Dec 27 and January 8, fuelling concerns over the situation, even as Uttarkhand Minister Dhan Singh Rawat said on Saturday that the ISRO images have been withdrawn.

Politics related to Joshimath

Amid the Joshimath crisis, an old video of the Late union minister Sushma Swaraj has gone viral. Swaraj is giving a speech at Lok Sabha after the Kedarnath floods in the video. The former external affairs minister 2013 spoke about issues of development and destruction in the eco-sensitive zone of Uttarakhand.

Post the Kedarnath disaster, which occurred on 16 June 2013, Swaraj brought up the issue of the destruction of the environment in Parliament in September 2013. In the nine-year-old video in Hindi, Swaraj said, 

"In the name of development in Uttarakhand, rampant attacks are happening against the nature and environment. It is the outcome of that (Kedarnath floods). For whom are we doing the development? For whom are we spending million-billion dollars? One day, nature will become furious, and will destroy everything. When will we open our eyes? Not even after this disaster?

("In Uttarakhand, vikas ke naame pe jo hodh lagi hai, prakriti se ched chad karne ki, paryavaran ko pradushit karne ki, nadiyo par bandh banane ki... yeh uska nateeja hai. hum kiske liye vikas kar rahe hai, huma arbo kahrbo rupiya ka vikas karte jaate hai. Prakriti ek din krodhit hoti hai, aur aisi vinash leela karti hai ki sab kuch tabah kar jaati hai. kab aankhein khulegi humari? kya is trasidi ke baad bhi nahi? kya is aapda ke baad bhi nahi?)".

link to the Full Video

What can be done

  • Restrictions should be placed on heavy construction work, blasting or digging to remove boulders for road repairs and other construction, and the felling of trees.
  • A massive campaign to plant trees and grass be undertaken, agriculture on slopes be avoided, construction of a pucca drain system soaking pits be closed and sewage water flows through the sewer line. 
  • Further, to avoid, percolation, water shouldn't be allowed to accumulate and drains should be constructed to carry it to safer areas and all cracks should be filled in with lime, local soil, and sand. 
  • While the state already has weather forecasting technology that can warn people of local events, its coverage needs to be improved. 
  • The state government also needs to take scientific studies more seriously, which clearly can spell out the reasons for the current crisis


Joshimath is a small town with a rich history and culture. However, in recent years, the town has been facing a major problem - sinking. The main causes of this phenomenon are the excessive extraction of groundwater and deforestation in the surrounding areas. It is important that steps are taken to address these issues in order to save this historically and culturally significant town. The sustainable use of resources and reforestation can be a solution to this problem.

It's crucial that the local authorities and community work together to find sustainable solutions to protect the town and its heritage for future generations. The sinking of Joshimath is not only a problem for the people who live there, but also for the visitors, who come to learn about its history and culture.
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