Anti-people projects have been promoted as 'development' by various regimes over the last few decades. Just as the subsidence of Joshimath has taken centre stage with thousands facing displacement, there are reports coming from innumerable towns and villages where people are expressing fear of falling prey to disaster. They say the impending disaster is a result of inaction by the authorities, or processes induced by human and natural activities.

In the last two decades there have been reports in the local media from places like Munshiyari, Karnaprayag, Uttarkashi, Rudraprayag, Dharchula, Nainital and even Landour in Mussourie. These are places that cover just the state of Uttarakhand. There have been similar reports about sinking roads in Mcleodganj in Himachal Pradesh while the situation with regards to Kinnaur and districts being covered under road widening projects is well known.

“There is no district or town in the hills that has been spared. We have been hearing of the plans to relocate people residing in 465 villages of the state for several years now. It is a sad state of affairs.

“With the people demanding roads to the villages that are built in an unscientific manner using blasting, it has been a recipe for disaster. The contractors resort to blasting to save money that would go as payments to labour if done in a scientific manner. Add to that the threats coming from the network of hydroelectric projects that are based on tunnelling of rivers of which Joshimath is the latest example.

“Then you have ambitious plans like the all weather road on Char Dham circuit and the 126 km long railway track from Rishikesh to Karnaprayag,” explained SMA Kazmi who has been chronicling the developments in Uttarakhand right from the time it attained statehood.

“It has to be kept in mind that the Himalayas are young mountains that are still growing. Even in a hypothetical scenario of there being no human settlement or activity there would still be landslides. And here you have so many man-made disasters being created with impunity,” he added.

Adding on to Kazmi’s viewpoint, social and political activist Indresh Maikhuri pointed out, “It is not that issues have cropped up in towns and villages all of a sudden. They have been there for years and people have been raising them. The way governments respond to the genuine concerns of the people is well known.

“A case in point is Karnaprayag that has been raised by the people for more than two years. Under fresh pressure, the administration has once again started a survey of the area.”

A group of concerned citizens including Maikhuri, Arvind Chauhan of Parivartan Youth Club, former president of Karnaprayag municipality Subhash Gairola and Bhuvan Nautiyal of Nanda Devi Rajjat Samiti along with several others have submitted a fresh memorandum to the Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami through the local administration pointing at the emerging scenario in various localities of Karnaprayag due to land subsidence and soil erosion.

They have pointed out that cracks are also appearing in houses and are increasing continuously. The people are forced to live in the shadow of fear. They have cited cutting done at localities including Bahuguna Nagar and Rajnagar.

The memorandum states that the administration was kept informed in the past as well but no concrete action was taken to rescue the people in distress from this crisis.

“We demand that a time-bound geological survey should be conducted immediately of various parts of Karnaprayag city which are facing land subsidence and erosion. Remedial measures should be initiated without delay in the areas where treatment is possible.

Proper arrangements should be made for immediate rehabilitation of the people. If temporary displacement is to be done then proper arrangements should be made for the same,” the memorandum says.

It has also been demanded that measures be taken to prevent landslides in the Ida Badhani area. Meanwhile, the people of Joshimath are under tremendous stress in the face of ‘slow and unclear response’ to their agony.

On Wednesday evening, Chief Minister Dhami announced that those affected by the landslide in Joshimath will be given compensation at the market rate. He said that an interim assistance of Rs 1.5 lakh is being given to the affected families on an immediate basis and a total of Rs 45 crores as immediate assistance is being given to three thousand families.

Dhami has appealed to the people not to pay attention to the rumours of demolition of houses in the affected area of Joshimath. He stated that no action is being taken to demolish the houses.

A state government spokesperson said that an advance amount of Rs 1 lakh has been given to the affected landowners and families in the affected area before the permanent settlement displacement policy is prepared. An amount of Rs 50,000 has been given in the form of non-adjustable one-time special grant for transportation of goods and immediate needs of their buildings.

This amount was released by the Uttarakhand State Disaster Authority. Dhami has directed Chief Secretary S. S. Sandhu not to demolish the houses with cracks in the affected area unless it is unavoidable.

However, sources on the ground point out that it was reports that created panic about demolition of buildings leading to people sitting in protest in close proximity to two hotels leaning against each other as they feared that the fall of hotels would damage several residential structures. Further, there was information spread on Tuesday about the presence of the team in town that had recently demolished twin towers in Noida amid a lot of media hype.

“You have to understand the trauma of the people who are facing displacement. They cannot see their houses being reduced to rubble for which they have taken so many pains. You have to take them into confidence,” said Maikhuri.

The situation in Joshimath was reviewed at a meeting of the National Crisis Management Committee on Tuesday that was chaired by cabinet secretary Rajiv Gauba. The Cabinet Secretary stressed that immediate priority should be complete and safe evacuation of all the residents in the affected zone.

Priority may be accorded to demolition of vulnerable structures in a safe manner. All the studies and investigations, viz. geotechnical, geophysical and hydrological, should be completed in a coordinated and time bound manner. The Cabinet Secretary assured the Chief Secretary of Uttarakhand that all central agencies will continue to be available for necessary assistance.

Meanwhile, Union Minister Dr Jitendra Singh while speaking at a Joint Indo-UK Academic Workshop in Delhi on Tuesday stressed upon the need to devise mitigation strategies to minimise human consequences in natural disasters. The UK Delegation was led by Deputy British High Commissioner to India Christina Scott.

He underlined that there is a critical need for fundamental research on the physical processes that lead to failure of the brittle layers beneath the crust and sub-crust, to develop low-cost solutions to identify and quantify the geo-hazards over the vast regions and devise mitigation strategies that are appropriate to widely varying – and rapidly evolving – political, social, and economic contexts.

He added that scientific understanding of the processes behind disasters has grown immensely over the past 50 years and there is a need for strengthening further international collaborations like the Indo-UK initiative to fight such disasters in future.

Scott in her remarks said that building resilience to geo-hazards presents a major challenge that requires collaborative international action by researchers, policymakers, governments, private sectors, and civil societies.