The Congress on Monday demanded that the Joshimath crisis be declared a national calamity and accused the Narendra Modi government of allowing reckless construction in Uttarakhand without concern for the environmental destruction.
Roads and hundreds of houses have developed cracks amid land subsidence in Joshimath, a pilgrimage centre in Uttarakhand, with experts blaming rampant construction that ignored warnings about such a disaster.
The Congress blamed the crisis partly on blasts carried out as part of a power project and the widening of roads under the Char Dham project.
It demanded an immediate stop to work under these projects, the filling of tunnels and the denial of clearance to new construction projects without proper assessment of the possible environmental impact. It also sought a comprehensive rehabilitation plan for Joshimath.
Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera alleged that the BJP governments at the Centre and in the state lacked any sense of the need for synergy between development and environmental protection.
“The UPA government was sensitive towards the environment and ecology and stopped several projects. We responded to the demands of environmentalists and the public. But the BJP has overruled all concerns,” he said.
Rahul Gandhi had raised the alarm two days ago, posting a Facebook message saying: “The pictures coming from Joshimath in Uttarakhand are horrifying.... I am deeply disturbed. Wide cracks in houses, seepage of water, cracks in the ground and subsidence of roads are a matter of great concern....
“A landslide caused the Bhagwati temple to collapse. Going against nature by continuous digging and unplanned construction on the mountains has led to the people of Joshimath facing a terrible crisis today.”
The Modi government had pushed the Char Dham project despite serious objections from experts and local populations.
The 900km project that aims to link four key pilgrimage centres in Uttarakhand was cleared by the Supreme Court on a plea from the Centre.
The project involves the felling of thousands of trees in the ecologically fragile zone to widen roads that are already prone to landslides.
While experts had warned the Centre against expanding the width of the roads beyond 5.5 metres, the government decided on 10 metres.
An expert, Ravi Chopra, had resigned from a high-powered Char Dham oversight committee in protest, writing to the Union environment ministry that the project was being carried out in brazen violation of statutory norms, “as if the rule of law does not exist”.
He cited the execution of work without permission, misuse of old clearances and the violation of Supreme Court directives, among other alleged lapses.
The Centre had cited China’s expansion of its road infrastructure as one of the grounds for the project.
Khera said the cracks in the houses and roads of Joshimath were widening by the hour and alleged that the Rs5,000 compensation given by the state government amounted to rubbing salt in the wounds of those affected.
Uttarakhand Congress-in-charge Devendra Yadav said the BJP chief minister, Pushkar Singh Dhami, had visited Joshimath several days after the crisis was reported and spent barely two hours there.
“The Congress MLA and councillor who wanted to meet the chief minister were detained by the police. A delegation of senior leaders will now meet the chief minister and the governor to submit a memorandum,” he said.
A Congress leader from Uttarakhand, Manish Khanduri, said the government’s response to the crisis had been shoddy and hollow. He said representations had been made to the administration in 2021-22 but no action was taken. He added that several other towns were in danger.