Villagers in Jammu concerned after cracks appear in houses, hundreds displaced

Major cracks and sinking of the residential houses have forced at least 200 people of Nai Basti village at Tathri in the Doda district of Jammu division to migrate to safer places. Although authorities say that it isn’t a repeat of a Joshimath-like situation, locals are anxious.

“Everyone is worried that many have debts to pay towards the banks used to construct our homes. All the life’s savings was used on constructing them”, laments Mohsina begum tearing up while holding her newborn baby.

On the bank of the Cenab river, Nai Basti village at Thathri Tehsil is located 30 kilometres away from the district headquarters Doda. As per the locals, they had moved there back in the 1990s aimed to protect themselves from the militants.

Cracks first appeared in December last year in a residential house but soon the number of affected structures reached 21 — 19 residential houses, a Mosque and a Madrassa.

It comprises 117 people from 19 families and 80 Madrassa students. Eight residential houses have completely collapsed.

Mohsina said that each affected family must be facilitated amid these distressing times.

“Land should be provided by the government along with some assistance so that people come out of this period.”

People fear that it could be a repeat of mass migration similar to what happened in Utrakhand’s Joshimath earlier this year. About 3000 people were shifted to relief camps after their houses sank or saw cracks in the wall. Experts in Uttarakhand blamed uncontrolled construction at the eco-sensitive zone for the amount of destruction.

Obaid Ahmad, a school student, is worried after he lost all his books due to an abrupt evacuation.

“We don’t know where our books are. We are scheduled to appear in exams next month. Each of our belongings has got misplaced,’’ he said. A red alert has been issued in the entire area. 

“We have to appear in the 10th standard examination in March. This is a major concern authorities need to work on,” Ahmed told Maktoob.

“Authorities assessing the situation”

District Development Council (DDC) member Tathri, Sandeep Manhas, said that all the affected structures are unsafe to live in.

“Entire process and situation are being looked at seriously from the top level. Local Union Minister Dr Jitendera Singh at the Prime Minister’s office and Lieutenant Governor J&K are closely monitoring the situation. The migrated families include both government employees and labourers.”

The entire subdivision he said is located on the banks of the Chenab River and it could also be due to the unavailability of a drainage system for three decades now. “There probably can be some other reasons as well. It’s the professional and technical people who can precisely tell the exact reason as to why the land started to sink and develop cracks,’’ he said.

Teams from the Geological Survey of India (GSI) and the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Jammu have visited affected spots. Besides them, a team of Geologists from the University of Jammu also visited the site.

One of the geologists from Jammu University, Dr Yudhbir Singh part of the team who examined the affected site said that nothing can be said this early. “We will analyse everything we saw there only then anything can be said. The portions that have developed cracks are still open up. It’s quite important to fill those at first so that the situation as it seems at present doesn’t worsen further,’’ he said.

Dr Yudhbir said that after analysing the entire data the long-term solutions will be shared with the government. Also, the root cause of it will be shared with the government, also if the public desires to know shall be shared with them.

Dr Yudhbir also said that the situation at Nai Basti cannot be compared with Joshimath. “Both Joshimath and Nai Basti’s situations have completely different perspectives. It’s wrong to compare this situation with Joshimath.’’

Displaced families anxious

Abdul Wahid, another resident who claimed to have migrated to Nai Basti during the 90s after he lost his father and uncle to militancy incidents, said that the situation is very scary and people are worried.

“Government has not been able to handle and facilitate people properly. People are facing difficulties due to improper arrangements at government camps at a local school,” he said.

Wahid said that children and women are the worst sufferers after they migrated to safer places. “Children have fallen ill due to cold. Women are also suffering immensely.”

Yawar, another local, said that people are affected not only due to loss of property but rather mentally as well.

“Everyone is concerned about their future. People are suffering from insomnia, anxiety and depression due to the current situation. Many of the affected families are landless and don’t have any alternate piece of land to construct a house,” he said.

“Migration from a place where most of us have lived best and the worst moments of our lives isn’t that easy. Birthplaces are more of an emotion than a simple concrete structure,’’ Yawar said.  

Dr Yudhbir said that after assessing the site there is no such evidence to prove that it is sinking. “Hype created about sinking are untrue. We have not found any signs or traces that it is sinking. Chaos shouldn’t be created among the people,’’ he said.

Stating that the situation is under control and being monitored closely, Sub Divisional Magistrate Tathri Ather Ameen Zargar said that the situation continues to remain the same as it was on 03 February.

“There is no further sinking, no cracks have developed or widened further. No effect on any area has increased so far since then. Amid rains a portion of land came sliding down while the rest of it remains the same,’’ he said.

The SDM said that some of the families who were taken to safer places for government accommodation have preferred to live as tenants at their will. “Government accommodation is left with just 3-4 families. Some have moved back to the actual village they lived in before (the 1990s). Remaining is also planning to move to their village,” he said.

“A resettlement plan for all the affected families is underway but the reports of the Geological Survey of India (GSI) and Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Jammu are awaited. Based on those reports from both teams, composite plans will be framed along with the reasons. Preventions and resettlement will be submitted to the government,’’ SDM Ather Ameen said.

“The entire area has been declared as a red zone after proper marking of the sliding area.”

Earlier this month Lieutenant Governor of Jammu and Kashmir Manoj Sinha said that the affected families have been moved to safer places by the district administration.

“There is no need to create panic or hype. The administration is closely monitoring the situation regularly. Whatever is possible will be done. Experts will analyse and say what the fact is.”

Tasaduq Hussain is a Srinagar-based freelance journalist. He has been reporting on security, health, sports and border areas in Jammu and Kashmir.