Posters saying "NTPC Go Back" have appeared across Uttarakhand's Joshimath as evacuations and demolitions continue in the town.
The sinking town of Joshimath has developed cracks in hundreds of buildings, forcing people to vacate the buildings and relocate. Dangerously tilting buildings are also being demolished.
The subsidence-hit Joshimath is expressing anger at the National Thermal Power Corporation (NTPC), which has a hydropower project nearby. The NTPC runs 520 MW Tapovan Vishnugarh hydroelectric project near Joshimath and it has been claimed that the heavy construction and drilling of a 12 km underground tunnel as part of the project has destabilised the region geologically.
From the numerous small and big shops in the main markets to the residential properties, vehicles, and billboards, posters with the slogan "NTPC go back" have come up around the town in Uttarakhand’s Chamoli district over the past few days.
Joshimath-based businessman Sooraj Kapruwan told PTI, "We have always felt that NTPC, which has been working here, is responsible for the damage to a large extent. They are building a tunnel, their machine is stuck. The work that should have been completed by 2012 started that year and is still going on. In between this work, we have had many issues earlier as well in many parts of the town."
Kapruwan's views were echoed by many in Kuprawan's subsidence-hit neighbourhood of Manohar Van, one of the nine wards of Joshimath.
The Joshimath Bachao Sangharsh Samiti (JBSS) on Monday demanded that the project developed by the NTPC be scrapped. Activist Atul Sati believes that while there may be many reasons for making the region fragile, the current subsidence in Joshimath is to be blamed on the blasting caused for the project.
He told PTI, "The main reason behind this situation where the existence of Joshimath is in question is the Tapovan-Vishunaghat project and the NTPC company behind this project. The L&T company was initially building the tunnel for NTPC but had to quit as it was not satisfied with the way the corporation worked. The central government should take the matter in its hands and declare Joshimath's subsidence a national disaster."
NTPC denies any link to Joshimath crisis
The NTPC, however, has denied any link between the project and Joshimath's subsidence, saying the tunnel connected to the Tapovan Vishnugarh hydroelectric project is over a kilometre under the ground and not below Joshimath.
"The tunnel built by NTPC does not pass under Joshimath town. This tunnel is dug by a tunnel boring machine (TBM) and no blasting is being carried out currently," it said in a statement last week.
Chamoli District Magistrate Himanshu Khurana said work on the NTPC plant has now stopped, and the central and the state governments have taken cognizance of the allegations of damage due to this plant.
He told PTI, "Many government agencies and institutes such as the Geographical Survey of India (GSI), National Geophysical Research Institute, National Institute of Hydrology, and the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology are studying this issue, and we are hopeful that they will come up with an expert opinion on this. We will take further action based on the report of the experts. This is a dynamic situation and experts need to examine this independently. We want to know the reasons so that further action can be taken."
2010 study expressed concern over NTPC projecct
Experts are also of the opinion that the power project is a cause for concern.
According to a 2010 paper compiled by geologists MPS Bisht and Piyoosh Rautela named 'Disaster looms large over Joshimath', the Tapovan Vishnugad hydropower project is a major concern and its tunnel traverses "all through the geologically fragile area below Joshimath".
"There have been previous reports that tunnelling related to the Tapovan-Vishnughat project had pierced a large aquifer (underground water storage) in 2009 that led to a discharge of 60-70 million litres of water per day," said Kusala Rajendran, seismologist and professor at the Centre for Earth Sciences, Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru.
"Imagine the surface effect of such an instability. It can lead to readjustments in the subsurface, and based on the nature of the rocks, the ground might subside," Rajendran told PTI over the phone.
Centre sets deadline for expert reports
The Centre on Tuesday set separate deadlines for the reports that various experts groups are preparing on the Joshimath crisis.
Experts from different institutions are conducting geophysical and hydrological studies of the crisis in subsidence-hit Joshimath.
The Central Building Research Institute has been given three weeks' time to submit its report, the National Geophysical Research Institute two weeks for the preliminary report and three weeks for the final report while the Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology got two weeks for the preliminary report and three weeks for the final, Secretary, Disaster Management Ranjit Kumar Sinha told reporters here.
Similarly, the Geological Survey of India has been given two weeks for its preliminary report and two months for the final report and the Central Ground Water Board has got one week's time for the submission of the preliminary report and three weeks for the final report, he said.
Other developments in Joshimath
The Uttarakhand government decided to demolish 15 completely damaged houses in the JP colony. The flow of water from an underground channel near JP Colony in Marwari area of Joshimath that burst on January 2 has ebbed further to 123 litre per minute. Water flow stood at an alarming 540 LPM initially.
The Uttarakhand government has distributed Rs 3.10 crore to 207 affected families as advance for the displacement while a piece of land belonging to the Horticulture Department near TCP Tiraha, Joshimath has been identified for the construction of model pre-fabricated huts with one, two, and three bedrooms, Sinha said.
The huts will be built in a week and further action will be taken in accordance with the choice of affected people, he added.
Fifteen heavily damaged buildings of JP colony have been identified and their mechanical demolition will start soon, Sinha said.
The number of buildings that have developed cracks has risen to 849 and 250 families have so far been evacuated to safety.
There are a total 615 rooms in Joshimath with a capacity of 2,190 people and 491 rooms in Pipalkoti with a capacity of 2,205 people have been made into temporary relief camps, he said.
The secretary informed that seven areas/wards have been declared unsafe in Sunil, five in Manoharbagh, two in Singhdhar, and one in Gandhinagar while 167 buildings are located in the unsafe area.
Meanwhile, state education minister Dhan Singh Rawat said students in subsidence-hit areas of Joshimath will be given an option to choose their centres for the board examinations in accordance with their convenience.
(With PTI inputs)