Expedite settlement of Joshimath victims

Expedite settlement of Joshimath victims

The disaster unfolding in Joshimath appears to now have a new dimension. Nearly 300 families living in relief camps are yet to hear anything about permanent resettlement, more than three months after they were driven out of their homes due to gaping cracks appearing in structures throughout the hill town. The culprit appears to be a delay in a closely watched technical report on why landslides and subsidence hit the region, though almost two months have passed since eight technical agencies carried out surveys and assessments of the region.

A displaced family watches their mobile phone in a temporary accommodation in a hotel, in Joshimath, Uttarakhand (AP)

This is unconscionable. Though the precise trigger for the tragedy in Joshimath is yet to be determined, there appears to be general scientific agreement that untrammelled development of infrastructure and hydropower projects and unplanned development damaged a fragile ecosystem and endangered the lives of thousands of people. These residents – many of whom were driven out of their ancestral homes at a few hours’ notice and managed to only carry out a handful of close personal items before sheltering in camps – deserve empathetic treatment from the authorities. The susceptibility of the Himalayas needs long-term planning and oversight, which can only begin once the technical report is released and its conclusions publicly debated and discussed.

In February, the Uttarakhand cabinet approved a policy for compensation and permanent rehabilitation for affected residents, but many now say that even the financial compensation is yet to be fully paid. Many people living in the relief camps also appear apprehensive about returning to Joshimath, given the still-gaping fissures on the ground and roads. Therefore, the government must consider expediting the release of the report, processing damage claims urgently, and finding alternative sites for the people to shift. The state and Centre should also discuss the need for a new policy to support victims of ecological disasters, given that the climate crisis is likely to exacerbate such events. At a time when the Char Dham Yatra is less than a month away, these steps should be treated a priority.

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