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Is Govt ignoring cracks in buildings caused by construction projects?

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UDAS report for April released by SDC Foundation

By Arun Pratap Singh

Dehradun, 15 May: Uttarakhand Disaster and Accident Synopsis (UDAS) is a monthly initiative by Dehradun based think tank Social Development for Communities (SDC) Foundation founded by social activist Anoop Nautiyal, to document disasters and accidents in Uttarakhand that may have led to human, animal and ecological casualties.

The Foundation released its monthly report for April, 2023, today. The report also summarises the developments in the Joshimath land subsidence incident. The report reminds that Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami had called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on 3 April and sought a financial package of Rs 2,942.99 Crores for relief and rehabilitation works in Joshimath. Dhami had informed the PM that the package includes the construction of 150 prefabricated houses, site development work, interim relief, compensation for damage to residential and commercial infrastructure. He had also briefed the PM that the work on stabilisation and redevelopment of Joshimath is also to be done. The UDAS report also points out that, in April, the Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti, a citizens’ collective that has participation from almost all residents of the town hit by land subsidence had warned the government of an agitation if their demands were not met by 27 April. The day after the warning was issued the CM visited Joshimath on 8 April and promised the local people to resolve their problems. The CM had also claimed that the situation in Joshimath was stable but a negative perception was being was created. He had asked the people not to panic, reminding them that disasters do hit Uttarakhand on a regular basis but this does not mean that Joshimath is sinking as some people have been claiming before the nation.

In view of the prevailing restriction on construction work, NTPC, which is constructing a hydropower project, has claimed that due to stoppage of work for almost 100 days, it has incurred a loss of over Rs 500 crores. The report also points out that the ongoing protests by the local people in Joshimath have completed 100 days already as on 13 April. Days after Chief Minister Dhami said the situation in Joshimath is “stable”, some residents of the pilgrim town have claimed that new cracks have appeared in their houses. In their letters to Joshimath Sub-Divisional Magistrate (SDM) Kumkum Joshi on 18 April, they requested the local administration to re-survey their houses. As per their claims, earlier, there were only a few hairline cracks, but they have grown bigger and wider now. The report cites the statement of Basanti Devi and her brother, Narendra Lal, residents of Chhawani Bazaar, who have written to Joshimath SDM in this regard. Basanti Devi has claimed that no one is paying heed to their complaint.

An integrated disaster control room is being set up at Joshimath to deal with the disaster issue in Chamoli district. The control room will be connected with the National Disaster Response Force, State Disaster Response Force, Border Roads Organisation, Army, Police, Indo Tibetan Border Police and local administration to ensure an effective response to any disaster-like situation during the yatra season, said state disaster management officials. A central government team, which conducted a four-day Post-Disaster Needs Assessment (PDNA) study in subsidence-hit Joshimath, concluded that some areas have become inhabitable and 200-350 families will have to re- locate permanently.

The report also mentions land subsidence in Bageshwar following which the mining activity has been stopped as of now. The cracks were first noticed there on the walls of the ancient Kalika Temple of Kanda Village, due to which there is some resentment among the locals. The residents have alleged that the use of machines for the uncontrolled illegal soapstone mining being done above the temple area is the main reason for the cracks that have surfaced on the walls of the temples. The district geological scientist said that the geological report has been submitted to the District Magistrate of Bageshwar, which has highlighted that 8 to 10 centimetre wide cracks have surfaced 40 metres away from the crown of the mining pit. The fresh land subsidence and the cracks appearing in the temple have instilled fear among the residents of the area in the aftermath of the Joshimath disaster.

In addition, the report further mentions cracks having been seen in some houses in Village Sirsolpatti, district Pithoragarh.  Local residents allege that cracks appeared in 50 houses due to tunnel blasting on the under construction 21 MW Khutani Hydro Electric Project in Sirsolpatti-Bankot Village in Pithoragarh district. The hydro project is being made on the Saryu River. Local residents have been complaining about the cracks since the past one year. Authorities have conducted their surveys and submitted reports to the District Magistrate of Pithoragarh. However, there is not much action seen on behalf of the government in this regard since then.

The report also informs about cracks having developed in many houses in Village Harsari in Chamoli District. Local residents allege that the tunnel construction on the 444 MW Vishnugad Pipalkoti Hydro Electric Project on the river Alaknanda is resulting in cracks in their houses. The project had begun way back in 2003 and is now being executed by THDC.