The Supreme Court on Tuesday agreed to hear on January 16 a plea seeking the court’s intervention to declare the crisis in Uttarakhand's land subsidence-hit Joshimath as a national disaster.
A bench comprising Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice P S Narasimha, however, refused to list the plea, filed by Swami Avimukteshwaranand Saraswati, for urgent hearing saying everything important should not come to it directly.
“There are democratically elected institutions to look into it. Everything important should not come to us. We will list it on January 16,” the CJI said.
The plea was mentioned by advocate Parmeshwar Nath Mishra, appearing for Swami Saraswati.
Saraswati has contended that the incident has occurred due to large-scale industrialisation and sought immediate financial assistance and compensation to the people of Uttarakhand.
The plea has also sought direction to the National Disaster Management Authority to actively support the residents of Joshimath in this challenging time.
"No development is needed at the cost of human life and their ecosystem and if any such thing is to happen, then it is the duty of the State and Union government to stop the same immediately at war level," the plea of the Seer said.
Joshimath, the gateway to famous pilgrimage sites like Badrinath and Hemkund Sahib and international skiing destination Auli, is facing a major challenge due to land subsidence.
Joshimath is sinking gradually with huge cracks developing in houses, roads and fields there. Many houses have suffered subsidence, locals have said.
'Every minute is important'
Chief Minister Pushkar Singh Dhami has ordered immediate evacuation of 600 families living in houses at risk. "Every minute is important," the Uttarakhand Chief Secretary said on Monday as more houses, buildings and roads developed cracks in the sinking town of Joshimath. Red crosses to denote danger have come up on hundreds of unsafe structures, but many residents stayed on despite the imminent danger.
The number of subsidence-affected homes rose to 678 while 27 more families were evacuated to safety, Monday's bulletin from the Disaster Management Authority in Chamoli said, adding so far 82 families have been shifted to safe locations in the town.
Chief Secretary S S Sandhu held a meeting with officials at the state secretariat to review the situation in Joshimath and asked them to speed up the evacuation exercise to ensure the safety of residents as "every minute is important".
200 homes marked with red crosses
The district administration had put red cross marks on more than 200 houses in the sinking town that are unsafe for living. It asked their occupants to either shift to the temporary relief centres or rented accommodation for which each family will get assistance of Rs 4,000 per month for the next six months from the state government.
Personnel of the State Disaster Response Force have been deployed for the relief and rescue efforts. A team of the the National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) is also "on standby" to assist the local administration, a senior official said.
There are 16 places in Joshimath where temporary relief centres have been built for the affected people. Apart from them, 19 more hotels, guest houses and school buildings have been identified for the affected people in Joshimath and 20 outside the town in Pipalkoti.
Dilapidated houses to be razed
Sandhu said the work on stopping the erosion in the subsidence-hit areas should be started immediately and dilapidated houses that have developed huge cracks should be razed soon so that they do not cause further damage.
Broken drinking water pipelines and sewer lines should also be repaired immediately as they might complicate things in the subsidence zone, he said.
Many families in the affected area are finding it hard to sever their emotional ties with their homes and move out.
Even those who have shifted to temporary shelters keep returning to their abandoned houses in the danger zone, unable to overcome the pull of home.
Declare national calamity: Cong
The Congress on Monday demanded that the land subsidence situation in Uttarakhand's Joshimath should be declared a national calamity and all developmental projects in the area halted till a report by experts and environmentalists is submitted on the issue.
The opposition party described it as a man-made disaster and sought enhanced compensation for each house affected due to the "unbridled development" in the area. It asked the government to preserve the old Joshimath town and develop a new town to rehabilitate the residents.
Congress president Mallikarjun Kharge said, "Protect nature. The whole country is worried and is with the people of Joshimath, where unbridled development has created cracks in Uttarakhand's 'Devsthal'." "We have three demands from the Modi government - The Joshimath tragedy should be declared a "national calamity".
'Stop all projects now'
"Stop all new projects, including of railways and hydel power, until a newly appointed high-level committee of experts, scientists, environmentalists and local people submits its report," he said in a series of tweets in Hindi.
"The oustees of Joshimath be given adequate compensation from PM CARES fund, instead of only Rs 5000," Kharge also said.
Former chief minister Harish Rawat has also demanded that the compensation be increased to Rs 50,000 per victim and a 'new Joshimath' be established while preserving the old town.
'State govt response shoddy'
Congress leader Manish Khanduri said the first cracks in Joshimath had appeared in 2019 but the response of the BJP government in the state has been "shoddy and inadequate" and the chief minister was "found lacking".
Locals and the opposition Congress held the building of the NTPC tunnel and the construction of the Char Dham all-weather road responsible for the aggravation of the land subsidence problem in the town.
However, Director of Wadia Institute of Himalayan Geology Kalachand Sain said, "Though we cannot rule it out, we cannot say this categorically as the NTPC tunnel is far from the affected area. However, a detailed analysis of the problem alone can ascertain its causes." State Congress president Karan Mahara visited Joshimath and said the subsidence began years ago but the state government is waking up only now.
"As many as 30,000 people will be affected by the ongoing crisis in Joshimath which is a hub of tourism activities. People will lose their livelihoods," Mahara said.
"Politics should not be done in a situation like this. People's lives should be saved as a priority," Mahara said.