Joshimath is a city in the Himalayan state of Uttarkhand, India. The city suddenly started going underground for the past few days. Cracks have appeared in various parts of the city due to the gradual sinking of the ground. Serious cracks have appeared in all important structures including houses and roads. Residents are being evacuated from the city to avoid accidents.

Bibisar reports that the city has been declared a ‘disaster prone’ area. Over 600 houses have cracked so far due to gradual land subsidence. Officials said to provide dry ration and financial assistance to the affected families.

Chamoli District Magistrate Himanshu Khurana said two federal government teams are going to the town to assess the situation. Besides, around 68 families have been shifted to temporary shelters so far. Hotels and guest houses in safe areas have been used as centres. More people will be evacuated as quickly as possible.

Residents of Joshimath, located in the naturally fragile region of the Himalayas, had been apprehensive of such a calamity for months. But recently the issue has come into the media as the fissures began to widen to a larger size.

Locals have also protested due to such disasters. According to them, this disaster has deepened as the construction project was taken up amid rampant irregularities.

A team of experts visited Joshimath last week and submitted a report to the government. The report is yet to be made public, but The Times of India reported that the panel recommended that houses or structures that aggravated the disaster should be demolished.

At least 25 percent of Joshimath’s area appears to be affected by land subsidence, The Times of India reported, quoting a senior official on condition of anonymity. However, the BBC has not independently verified the matter.

The phenomenon of cities sinking underground is not happening today, but has been going on for decades. In 1976, a government committee flagged the risk of land subsidence in Joshimath after residents complained of cracks in their houses. The committee’s report warned against allowing heavy construction work in the area.

But the precautions did not work, instead construction activity increased in Uttarakhand which is located in the ecologically fragile Himalayan region. The state has several important Hindu temples that attract millions of pilgrims every year.

According to experts, massive construction is damaging the ecological balance of the region, which is highly vulnerable to earthquakes and landslides. Federal agencies are working with the Uttarakhand government to deal with the situation and ensure the safety of residents, the Prime Minister’s Office said on Sunday.

A Hindu religious leader has also approached the Supreme Court. He called for urgent intervention here and declaration of the Joshimath crisis as a ‘national calamity’. The matter was taken up in court on Monday.

Many people have already started leaving their homes as the cracks started to widen after the heavy rains. Some families also resorted to temporary arrangements. In particular, they are trying to provide additional protection to their homes by using additional wooden planks along with polythene sheets and house poles.

(January 09)