A Public Interest Litigation (PIL) filed during the glacial flooding of February 2021, which cited some of the reasons for the Joshimath subsidence today, was dismissed by the Uttarakhand High Court in 2021. A penalty of ₹50,000 was also imposed on the petitioners as the court called them “merely puppets at the hand of an unknown puppeteer”.
In February 2021 floods, when over 200 people died at Raini village in Joshimath, the locals approached the Uttarakhand High Court where the then Chief Justice Raghvendra Chauhan had rejected the petition in the first hearing itself.
What did the plea seek?
The plea before the High Court sought to restrain the construction of the Tapovan hydropower project till the early warning system is in place and sought a direction to declare the current incidents of landslide, subsidence, land sinking, land burst, and cracks in the land and properties as a national disaster and direct the National Disaster Management Authority to support the residents of Joshimath.
Explained | Why is the land sinking in Joshimath?
The appeal requested the High Court to order reconsidering the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC) power project in Joshimath and ban the activities of environmental destruction in the area. “The Justice, then, had called us ‘puppets’. Today, the same project has become a threat to the existence of a town,” Atul Sati, convener of the Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti said.
Activists expressed concern after the Supreme Court on January 16 refused to entertain a plea seeking the top court’s intervention to declare Joshimath subsidence, a natural disaster, noting that the petition on the same issue is pending before the Uttarakhand High Court.
“The top court asked the petitioners to go to the same court [Uttarakhand HC] that had called him ‘puppets’ and had declined his petition in 2021 after imposing a penalty of ₹50,000,” Mr. Sati said informing about the PIL petition filed by him and four other people, including Sohan Singh (grandson of Chipko Movement’s leader Gaura Devi), Atul Sati, convener of the Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti.
What did the court say while dismissing the plea?
“This petition seems to be a highly motivated petition which has been filed at the behest of an unknown person or entity. The unknown person or entity is merely using the petitioners as a front. Therefore, the petitioners are merely puppets at the hand of an unknown puppeteer,” the Uttarakhand High Court had reportedly said.
The Environment Ministry, in an affidavit placed in the Supreme Court in 2021, disclosed that it permitted seven hydroelectric power projects, which are reportedly in advanced stages of construction, to go ahead. One of them was the 512 MW Tapovan Vishnugadh project, in Joshimath.
When the Union Power Ministry summoned officials of the NTPC in January this year, which is constructing the Tapovan Vishnugad Hydroelectric Project in the region, to review the subsidence in Joshimath, India’s largest electricity-generating company wrote to the ministry stating that its project had no role in the region’s subsidence.
Meanwhile, officials and geologists examining the damage in Joshimath also believe the 2021 flash floods that washed away the Rishiganga mini-hydropower project and claimed nearly 200 lives — were the trigger to Joshimath’s present-day troubles.
“Reports of cracks in homes started then,” Swapnamita Choudhury Vaideswaran, a scientist with the Dehradun-based Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology, a research organisation, told Reuters.
An apparent sinking of land is being blamed for cracks developing in hundreds of houses and buildings in Joshimath, a town of 17,000 people situated at an altitude of 1,830 metres that serves as a crucial gateway to important Hindu and Sikh shrines and also draws trekkers in parts of the Himalayas.
(With agency inputs)