Greed sank Joshimath. I saw it happen


In 2003, an activist named Atul Sati was among those who wrote a letter to the Indian president, drawing attention to the risks of a hydropower project in Joshimath, in Uttarakhand's Chamoli district. The letter and other efforts did not succeed in halting work on the project.

Nearly twenty years later, in June 2021, Sati and others filed a public-interest litigation in the High Court of Uttarakhand. The petition demanded that the same project, and another, be cancelled because they threatened the stability of the terrain around Joshimath.

The PIL was dismissed. The court fined the activists, “adding salt to our injuries” as Sati put it.

Today, the damage that these projects and others have wreaked on Joshimath is international news. The media has been filled with images of splintered earth and cracked buildings, and of people being forced to leave their homes of years. 

In Common Ground, Shruti Jain writes of how the disaster was allowed to unfold in the face of unambiguous warnings. Jain has been travelling to Joshimath since 2012 for fieldwork for her doctoral programme on the region’s hydropower projects. In the story, she draws on these years of research and conversations with locals, experts and activists. 

“Seeing Joshimath in such a situation of extreme uncertainty and despair was not easy,” Jain said. “There was anger as well as anxiety about whether the government that failed to hear of their problems when they were still manageable, is capable of addressing it now that a crisis has developed.” 

But the locals’ resilience was inspiring. “Women were coming to dharnas even when it was raining and snowing, leaving behind what is left of their houses,” she said. “They are ready to struggle together for a long time, when there are all kinds of attempts to break their resistance.”

You can read the story here. And you can support more such in-depth and investigative journalism by becoming a member of

Ajay Krishnan
Senior Editor

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