It appears to be the case of Ostrich Syndrome that is prevailing in Uttarakhand in response to the subsidence of Joshimath and the public outcry. There is a lot of anger over attempts to gag information about the sinking of the area and also to spin highly debatable narratives around the developments just to divert attention and shift the onus away from the authorities at whose step the buck stops.

There have been reports about the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) issuing an order asking government officials and institutions to ‘not interact with media and share data on social media regarding ground subsidence at Joshimath’. This ‘gag order’ comes after headlines in several papers saying that Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) reported that Joshimath had witnessed vertical sinking of 5.4cm between December 27, 2022, and January 8, 2023.

The reasons for the said order are said to be that such reports cause confusion not only amongst the locals but also among the people in other parts of the country.

This is being seen as yet another act of the authorities to block transparency and resort to opaqueness. People are comparing it to suppression of facts related to unemployment in the country and farm distress while pointing that this serves no purpose.

Social and political activist Indresh Maikhuri told The Citizen, “This simply shows that the government is keen to hide truth and facts. It needs to be understood that the problem is not because of data but the data is the outcome of the problem. Such orders do not stop the developing crisis and the disaster. The data will automatically improve if things are handled properly in time.”

This is not the only attempt to subvert the message coming out of Joshimath. Sources on the ground say that just when the sinking of the town made national and international headlines, there were elements approaching the locals, going door-to-door, not to participate in the protest demonstrations.

It is anybody’s guess about the affiliation of such elements. In fact, there were videos shared of people retaliating in anger to such elements asking them why they were taking such messages from door to door.

Atul Sati of Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti has been stating time and again that the people are not sitting on a dharna against the government. They just want a solution to their genuine problem as they face displacement.

He pointed out in a couple of his social media addresses, “The dharna is helpful in a different way as people come and sit together sharing their problems and sorrows. During this time their attention is diverted from the gloomy scenario confronting them at home.

“Nobody is in a position to bring the very large number of mental health professionals to address the trauma these people are undergoing. The songs these people sing here with support pouring in from different villages actually help calm them.”

Many people point out the hypothetical scenario if all these people in extreme distress and mental trauma start hitting the streets and the problems it would create.

There is more anger among the people on the attempts being made through pliable media to convey that the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) Limited, which is executing the Tapovan-Vishnugad hydro power project, is not responsible for the present crisis. The people are holding the tunnel being dug as a part of this project, along with the excavation for the Helang-Marwadi bypass road, responsible for the acceleration in the sinking of the town.

What is instead being propagated is that the problem in Joshimath is very old while the project started only a few years ago. There have also been attempts to propagate that it is unplanned and unabated construction that is largely responsible. This is construed as holding the people responsible for the crisis.

“If that is the case what are your municipalities, town and country planning department and urban development ministry doing across the state from where reports similar to that of Joshimath are being reported regularly,” retorted Maikhuri.

A part of the pliable media is also busy promoting mythological stories about impending disaster in the hills to divert attention from scientific facts.

There is yet another spin being given by the right wing against the progressive citizens giving voice to the people’s agony. The progressive elements are being painted as ‘pro China’ and it is being conveyed that public outrage in a town close to LAC is not in the interest of the country.

Meanwhile, the Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti has submitted a memorandum to the Prime Minister Narendra Modi through the local administration saying promptness and speed required to deal with this crisis is missing in the action of the state government that ignored warnings about this crisis for almost 14 months.

The Samiti has demanded that the Central government take the work of relief, rehabilitation and stabilisation of Joshimath in its own hands so that the lives and interests of the people are safe.

Quoting a research paper published in an international journal in 2015 titled ‘Change in Hydraulic Properties of Rock Mass Due to Tunneling’ the Samiti has called for immediately stopping the Tapovan-Vishnugad project of NTPC. “Along with this, NTPC should be fined twice the cost of the project for jeopardising the existence of Joshimath. This amount of about twenty thousand crores should be distributed among the people who have been ruined due to the project,” the memorandum stated.

It has also been sought that the Central government set up a high-level high-powered committee for the time-bound reconstruction of a new and state-of-the-art Joshimath, in which the Samiti and local public representatives should also be included wherein people get a house for a house and land for land.

The Samiti has also pointed out that in 1962 the land of the people of Joshimath was acquired by the defence ministry for the Army. But people have not received compensation for those lands till date.

Now even those lands are in trouble. “Before the existence of those lands ends, the people of Joshimath should be given compensation for those lands at the present market rate,” the Samiti stated.

Sources on the ground say that the agitated people have decided to gherao the office of the NTPC on January 26. They say that the government is keen on ‘Pariyojana Bachao’ (saving the hydro project) instead of ‘Joshimath Bachao’ (saving Joshimath).

In a media interaction last week eminent environmentalist and hydrology expert Dr. Ravi Chopra while quoting a research paper had opined that whatever is happening in Joshimath today is directly related to NTPC's actions in the past.

He said that in 2009, there was a water leak in the Tapovan-Vishnugad project along with

the tunnel boring machine (TBM) getting stuck. Due to the pressure of that water, new cracks were formed in the rocks and the old cracks became wider. Due to this, water also leaked from inside the tunnel. Those rocks are very weak and sensitive.

Quoting the research paper, he said that remedial measures were suggested but no action was taken on those suggestions. Dr. Chopra said that after studying all this, he came to the conclusion that due to the tunnelling process, the groundwater system here was affected.

He said that many times more water entered the tunnel on February 7, 2021 than the amount of water leakage in the tunnel. Due to this, new cracks were created in the rocks and the old cracks were widened, the effect of which would be very wide. He said that there are enough grounds to say that what we are facing today is the result of NTPC's tunnelling process.

He said that NTPC's claim of conducting controlled blasting is hollow as there is no scientist at the site at the time of blasting but a contractor who is in a hurry to finish his work.