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National Disaster Management Authority: Joshimath Disaster

Recently people in Joshimath, Uttarakhand are suffering greatly as a result of cracks that have been made in the ground, on the roadways, and on the walls. People have been moved to makeshift shelters. According to reports, there are cracks in over 50 homes in Bahuguna Nagar. These homes walls have also begun to crack due to land subsidence, and Joshimath's walls have also begun to do so, leaving the residents terrified and in the dark.

Joshimath, often referred to as Jyotirmath, is a municipality and a city in the Chamoli District of the Garhwal district of Uttarakhand. Joshimath is a significant Hindu pilgrimage site and is close to one of the four "maths" Adi Guru Shri Shankaracharya established in the eighth century. At a height of 6150 feet, it serves as a starting point for numerous Himalayan mountain climbing adventures, trekking routes, and pilgrimage sites like Badrinath and Kedarnath.

Joshimath is ecologically sensitive because it was established on the site of a long-ago landslide. It was never very strong while supporting weight. The current issue is a result of the development of highways, tunnels, and dams without proper planning.

Historical Chains Of Events And NDMA's Role

In Joshimath, cracks first appeared in the structures in the 1960s. That was the first indication that Joshimath's mountains were developing fissures, which were thought could be dangerous for the locals. The situation quickly got worse to the point where the then-government of Uttar Pradesh formed the Mishra Committee, to investigate the causes of the town's sinking.

Mishra Committee Report

A committee was established to look into what caused the landslides and the sinking of Joshimath town, and Mahesh Chandra Mishra, the then-Commissioner of Garhwal Mandal, served as its chairman. It recommended limitations on heavy construction activity, cultivation on slopes, tree removal, the installation of pucca drainage to reduce rainwater seepage, avoiding excavating at slopes and gathering building supplies in a five-kilometer radius, and forbidding tree cutting to prevent landslides in its report dated May 7, 1976.

However, the building of highways, dams, tunnels, and multistory structures went ahead as planned despite these recommendations. The current state of affairs is so dire that Joshimath's very survival is in jeopardy.

Chamoli Disaster

A landslide that happened on February 7, 2021, at around 1000 hours in the upper watershed of the Rishiganga River, an Alaknanda River tributary in the Chamoli District of Uttarakhand, caused a dramatic surge in the Rishiganga River's water level. A 13.2 MW Rishiganga small hydro project that was in operation was destroyed by a flash flood brought on by the Rishiganga's rising water levels. The 520 MW NTPC Hydro Power Project, which is being built downstream at Tapovan on the river Dhauli Ganga, was also impacted by the flash flood.

The National Thermal Power Corporation Limited was undertaking the run-of-the-river Tapovan-Vishnugad hydropower project, which requires building a tunnel over 12 km long under a hillside and using the water of the Dhauli Ganga river to channel through the tunnel to generate energy. The mountain through which the city of Joshimath is located also houses this tunnel. In 2021, more than 200 laborers who were working in this tunnel lost their lives.

According to a report by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA) looking at the effects of the 2021 Chamoli disaster, the government may need to look into alternative energy sources in the long run rather than relying on hydropower from Uttarakhand.

On January 5, National Thermal Power Corporation Limited was eager to emphasize that the accident should not be attributed to its tunnel because it did not pass beneath Joshimath. However, it does go through the identical aquifer that is beneath Joshimath.

2005 Mumbai Floods

The 2005 Maharashtra floods refer to widespread flooding throughout Maharashtra, including extensive flooding in Mumbai, a major city on the Arabian Sea coast. In Mumbai, it rains on average 242.42mm. The 994 mm of rainfall, the highest amount recorded for 24 hours, caused the floods. Mumbai's stormwater drainage system was installed in the early 20th century, however, it can barely move 25 mm of water per hour. Only 3 of the outfalls (routes to the sea) have floodgates; the other 102 open directly into the water. UK-based experts that BMC contracted to conduct the study recommended a project estimated at Rs. 600 crores.

The project, which was slated for completion in 2002, aims to improve the drainage system by installing stormwater pipes and drains with larger diameters, adding pumps where necessary, and clearing encroachments. Buildings were being constructed in Mumbai's northern suburbs haphazardly and without enough planning. The drainage plans in the northern suburbs were drawn up if and when they were needed in a specific location, not from an overall perspective.

NDMA and its relevance to the event
The National Disaster Management Authority or NDMA is an apex body of the Indian government with the responsibility of formulating disaster management policy. It was first recommended following the Gujarat earthquake of January 26, 2001. After the tsunami of Dec 26, 2004, calls for a national body equipped to act in times of disaster became more strident. The Disaster Management Act was passed on December 23, 2005, by the Indian government and created the NDMA.

To guarantee a comprehensive and decentralized approach to disaster management, the NDMA is responsible for developing policies, establishing guidelines, and best practices for working with the State Disaster Management Authorities (SDMAs). It is presided over by the Prime Minister of India and has a maximum of nine other members.

Functions And Responsibilities
Establish disaster management policies and rules that the various Ministries or Departments of the Government of India must adhere to incorporate disaster mitigation or disaster preventive strategies into their development plans and initiatives. Approve plans created by Indian Government Ministries or Departments in conformity with the National Plan. Coordinate the application of the disaster management strategy and its regulations. Support those nations in need as selected by the central government who have just experienced catastrophic calamities.

Take any additional steps it deems essential for disaster mitigation, disaster preparedness, or disaster prevention. Set general principles and rules for how the National Institute of Disaster Management should operate.

Scientists in India have been instructed not to discuss any information about the Himalayan volcano sinking with the media or on social media. Scientific institutes throughout the nation have been instructed not to share any information on the occurrence by the National Disaster Management Authority (NDMA)

A strong planning process is needed before any development projects were taken up in such fragile ecosystems. Over the years, we will likely experience a significant loss in both financial resources and human life as a result of the disaster management act's improper implementation.

Any region that wants to expand economically needs to build roads and other infrastructure, but the development must take into account the territory's geographic location and the potential of its resources. Nature must be revered since human survival depends on keeping it healthy and sustainable. Things cannot persist for long if the scales are tipped to favor rapid development and advancement. To avoid depriving people of their fundamental needs in the name of development, development should be done for the people.

The Joshimath issue has two sides to it. The first is the rapid infrastructural development taking place in an extremely vulnerable ecosystem like the Himalayas. Second, it is unprecedented how climate change is presenting itself in certain of India's hill states. For instance, Uttarakhand experienced calamity in the years 2021 and 2022. Several climate risk occurrences have occurred, such as times of heavy rain that cause landslides. We must first recognize how delicate these locations are and how even minor alterations or disruptions in the ecology can result in catastrophic events, as we are currently seeing in Joshimath.

The government of Uttarakhand has established committees and conducted surveys at various points in time, but none of the committee's recommendations have been carried through. Despite geologists' cautions and locals' protests, road widening and the construction of big hydropower projects continue.

If the same goes on like this numerous other cities in Uttarakhand will also experience conditions similar to those in Joshimath, which is not the only city in the state that is sinking into the ground. Some geologists say that towns like Joshimath, such as Karnaparag and Gopeshewar in the Chamoli district, Ghanshali in the Tehri district, Munshiari, Dharchaula in the Pithorgarh district, Bhatwari in Uttarkashi, and Nainital in the Pauri district, among others, may also sink into the earth.

The disaster management act of 2005 is merely paper legislation in India, and there is a severe lack of coordination. The failure to take disaster management seriously leads to heavy economic losses. Although we cannot stop natural disasters, we may take the necessary precautions to lessen the damage and save hundreds of lives.

Joshimath is a clear example of what one should not do in the Himalayas.

Written By: Abhishek Rana, 1st year B.A.LL.B from National Law Institute University.

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