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The Next Joshimath: Here Are Some Other Places That Might Sink

The hazards, which have been raised for decades by environmentalists and campaigners, came to light lately after soil subsidence caused fractures in hundreds of homes in the small town of Joshimath.
A sinking Himalayan village is exposing the hazards presented to the region and the mountain range’s sensitive environment, which has been disrupted by the growth of dams, highways, and military outposts near the Chinese border.
The risks, which have been raised for decades by environmentalists and activists, came to light recently when land subsidence – gradual sinking caused by displacement of underground earth layers – caused cracks in hundreds of homes in Joshimath, a tiny town in the northern hill state of Uttarakhand at an elevation of over 6,000 feet (1,830 metres).
Several scenic towns and villages dot the high seismic risk zone, serving as gates to hiking routes, Hindu pilgrimage sites, and key outposts in India’s unresolved border conflict with China.
Already, the region is prone to regular extreme weather events and landslides. In 2013, a catastrophic cloudburst killed over 5,000 people in the state. In Uttarakhand, four hydroelectric projects worth around 155 billion rupees ($1.9 billion) are now under construction.
“The villages and townships in northern Uttarakhand are positioned along the major active thrust zones inside the Himalayas and are particularly sensitive due to the region’s delicate environment,” said Rajeev Upadhyay, professor of geology at Kumaun University in Nainital. ”
Many settlements built on the ruins of previous landslide are already experiencing natural stress, and man-made initiatives add to the region’s strain”.
Land sinking incidents in the Joshimath region were first documented in the 1970s. In the 12 days leading up to January 8, Joshimath town saw fast sinking of up to 5.4 millimetres. According to a statement and satellite pictures issued by the Indian Space Research Organisation’s National Remote Sensing Centre, slow sinking of up to 9 centimetres (3.5 inches) was documented in the seven months running up to November last year.
Joshimath: The present disaster’s location is a significant military and administrative centre. Every year, millions of worshippers transit this military town on their way to Badrinath, a Hindu holy town. Nearby, the state-owned NTPC Ltd. is working on a hydroelectric power plant.
Next week, the Supreme Court will hear a petition from a local religious leader trying to prevent the development of the power plant, which is being blamed for the damage.

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