The despair being experienced by the residents of Joshimath whose homes have been damaged due to land subsidence will have been considerably relieved by Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami’s assurance that compensation would be awarded at market rates. This is quite unprecedented, actually, because the liability of government to compensate for such events is limited. The decision will, however, deflect the sentiment building up against hydel and highway projects that are important from the strategic points of view.
This is Dhami’s first major administrative and political challenge, which he seems to be coping with quite well. By addressing people’s primary concern, he has taken the wind out of the sails of those who had rushed to take political advantage of the tragedy. Another point worth noting is the CM’s statement that the crisis is limited in area and all the damaged houses will not necessarily be demolished. As of now, it is only the hotels that pose a danger to the surrounding residences that are to face ‘dismantling’.
Although there is a lot of speculation about what caused the large scale subsidence, no group of official experts has, as yet, identified the exact causes. Although the Tapovan project is being popularly blamed, it could even have been triggered by the failure, locally, to allow proper drainage of water. The unwillingness of local authorities to enforce standards and regulations on construction – because of corruption or negligence – is certainly responsible, and calls are already being made to address this failure. In fact, a complete overhaul of practices needs to be undertaken statewide to ensure people’s safety.
In the end, of course, the common taxpayer will have to foot the bill for the irregularities that have taken place – further stressing the state’s economy. It has to be ensured that the design and engineering of construction in the mountains should be of the highest quality with the latest technological inputs. Modern facilities have to be provided to the people – they cannot be left to exist in some medieval subsistence economy. All the efforts to reverse migration will go for a toss if more such events occur. However, the greed of the individual, and disregard for norms have to be strictly curtailed if there is to be a sustainable future.