Preparations begin to demolish two hotels in Joshimath, unstable houses to be razed

JOSHIMATH: The administration prepared on Tuesday to demolish two precariously standing hotels in subsidence-hit Joshimath, a day after the Uttarakhand government directed the razing of unstable structures amid stepped-up efforts to evacuate families living in the danger zone.

The two hotels – Malari Inn and Mount View – were leaning towards each other posing a threat to human settlements around them. The area was barricaded and power lines to these buildings and surrounding areas were cut, disrupting electricity supply to around 500 houses.

The decision for their “mechanical demolition” was taken on Monday, Secretary Disaster Management Ranjit Sinha told reporters, adding the Central Building Research Institute, Roorkee has been roped in by the state government for the exercise.

State Disaster Relief Force (SDRF) personnel along with JCBs and workers reached the spot and announcements were made through loud hailers asking people to keep their distance from the two hotels.

As evacuation efforts continued, as many as 131 families in total have so far been shifted to the temporary relief centres while the number of damaged houses in Joshimath has risen to 723, a bulletin from the Chamoli unit of Disaster Management Authority said on Tuesday.

There are 86 houses in the area demarcated as an unsafe zone. The district administration has put red cross marks on houses in the sinking town that are unsafe for living.

Uttarakhand Chief Secretary SS Sandhu had on Monday said that dilapidated houses that have developed huge cracks should be razed soon so that they do not cause further damage.

Union Minister of State for Defence Ajay Bhatt visited the subsidence-hit areas of the town and met the affected people. He said the demolition exercise has been undertaken in public interest to secure the lives of people.

Meanwhile, hotel owners said they came to know about the state government’s decision through newspapers and demanded that a one-time settlement plan should have been offered to them before the decision to demolish their hotels.

“I came to know about it through the newspapers this morning. There was no prior notice. If the government demarcated my hotel as unsafe it should have first come up with a one-time settlement plan before deciding to demolish it,” said Thakur Singh the owner of Malari Inn.

Mount View owner Lalmani Semwal expressed similar sentiments.

“It is like slaying a child one has reared through years of hard work in front of its parent,” Semwal said.

“We put all our resources into building this hotel. We paid regular taxes to the government. It said nothing then and now all of a sudden it comes up with a drastic decision like this. Isn’t it a violation of human rights?”

“If the government has decided what can we say. But we should be offered a one-time settlement plan in compensation on the lines of Badrinath,” Semwal said.

Officials had on Monday said the state government is working on a relief package for the people of the disaster-hit town, which will soon be sent to the Centre.

Joshimath has been declared a land subsidence-hit area after huge cracks developed in houses and other structures, roads and on fields.

The holy town is the gateway to famous pilgrimage sites like Badrinath and Hemkund Sahib and there has been a demand from some quarters, including the opposition Congress, to declare the crisis a national disaster.

The Supreme Court on Tuesday listed for hearing on January 16 a plea seeking the court’s intervention to declare the crisis in Joshimath a national disaster.

Refusing an urgent hearing, the court said there are “democratically elected institutions” to deal with the situation and all important matters should not come to it.

The plea by Swami Avimukteshwaranand Saraswati of Joshimath was mentioned before Chief Justice DY Chandrachud and Justice P S Narasimha.

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