Local authorities finally declared Joshimath disaster-prone last week and called disaster management and technical teams to assess the unfolding devastation. Many residents packed up their belongings and over 3,000 were moved into relief camps.Construction was banned by the state government to prevent further sinking, but locals VICE World News spoke to said they can still hear construction blasts in the dead of the night. Last week, TV news channel NDTV caught drilling activity related to a hydropower plant at 2AM just outside Joshimath. The state government also still plans to go forward with holy and sporting events that will bring thousands of tourists to the area.
Joshimath is not alone. It’s among over 500 towns and villages in Uttarakhand state that’s in the land subsidence zone.
Dozens of residents VICE World News spoke to blame the NTPC for digging tunnels around the town to build the $364-million Tapovan Vishnugad Hydro Electric Project, intended to supply electricity across the state. As of now, the project is 70 percent complete with a new anticipated cost of $868 million. Residents say that the 12-kilometre tunnel NTPC dug just over a kilometre away involves frequent construction explosions. “We’ve been hearing these blasts for years,” said Pandey, a local resident, whose deteriorating house is located very close to the NTPC tunnel. “These sounds come from right above us. Today, the impact is right here in front of you. These floors look like a bomb exploded underground.”“This land is not made for so much development,” said Santosh, the priest. “The authorities have to investigate these development projects to see if these links [of cracks] are true. Building anything on this land is like making a house on a mound of sand.”
“We warned this day would come, but nobody listened.”
The NTPC has denied allegations by Joshimath residents, writing to the country’s power ministry last week to say their tunnel doesn’t pass under the Joshimath town. "The tunnel is at a horizontal distance of around 1.1 kilometre away from the outer boundary of Joshimath town and vertically around 1.1 kilometre below the ground level," the letter said, adding that the tunnel boring machine “causes no disturbance to the surrounding rock mass.” The report also claims there are no signs of sinking around the tunnel.
“Building anything on this land is like making a house on a mound of sand.”