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DC Edit | Bitter truth of sinking Joshimath


Published on: January 9, 2023 | Updated on: January 9, 2023

 An undated picture of Tapovan Vishnugad Hydropower Plant of NTPC at Joshimath in Uttarakhand. (PTI Photo)

The problem was flagged almost half a century ago. Even so, it took a land subsidence event and the visible plight of panicking occupants of around 600 homes for governments and the people to respond to an emergency created solely by indiscriminate development over decades in an ecologically vulnerable ecosystem in Joshimath.

By no means is the picturesque pilgrim town and gateway to revered Himalayan shrines on higher peaks the only example of human activity and habitation damaging the fragile ecology of an area nestling in high terrain. Joshimath is paying the belated price now for human development in the form of highways, power stations and haphazard construction of housing and commercial establishments on Himalayan slopes.

Like a canary in a coal mine, the town is a warning, certainly a dire one, of how much humans can wreak havoc on nature by overuse of its resources. And it is not as if man is not aware of the threats posed to an exotic area of perennial streams now increasingly subject to torrential cloudbursts thanks to climate change caused by global warming.

Besides disaster management teams, the Centre has also rushed ecological experts who will doubtless throw light on the myriad ways in which man has spoiled nature with hazardous and unplanned construction just to inhabit and eke out a living in splendid high reaches of nature’s great bounty in the form of the Himalayas.

The immediate focus may be on rescue and rehabilitation of citizens affected in about 10 percent of the buildings, which have been developing cracks and allowing residents sleepless nights in cold weather. As the worst of destruction caused by humans presents itself, it becomes apparent that grand development in fragile ecosystems is a double-edged sword that often hurts the beneficiaries.
It remains to be seen whether the Joshimath crisis is met with short-term solutions or if it brings home the truth of man’s uneasy coexistence with nature in its most vulnerable locations.