Slithering its way through Rajasthan, the Chambal river is a tributary of the Yamuna and forms a major part of the Gangetic channels. In India’s largest and driest state, the Chambal river plays a crucial role in agriculture, manufacturing, etc. It is also known for its extensive ravine system, and holds significant historical and cultural value.
The river holds the largest population of the critically endangered gharial and red-crowned roof turtle. Over the years, the size of this once-mighty tributary has shrunk down. This is owed to the excessive sand-mining and fishing carried out in the highly populated areas surrounding the Chambal river. Due to this, female gharials are forced to migrate and lay their eggs fifteen kilometers away. Sand mining destroys precious natural sand banks that are required by gharials to breed by occupying them with heavy machinery, etc. Hence, gharials no longer have a safe habitat near their homes and have to migrate in search of a better place.
The population boom in Rajasthan has also aided to the problem of Chambal’s deterioration. The urgent demand of fresh water for both domestic requirements as well as industrial activities has put to threat the river’s life.
Keeping in mind the low-flow rate of Chambal during the dry seasons, several hydroelectric and irrigation projects such as the Rana Pratap Sagar dam have been launched. These sure do help to meet the water requirements of the people, but have add an adverse impact on the flora and fauna around them. Even though one may argue that the scale of such projects is small, to provide the benefits to the people at the grassroots level, the collective impact and pressure of these small projects is large, and it is choking the Chambal river.
The reduction in water levels is a matter of serious concern, because the population of migratory birds that nest exclusively on sand bars, like the Indian skimmer, is at risk too.
Industrial activity along the Chambal basin in Rajasthan has increased the pollution levels of the water by many folds. Unchecked dumping of industrial effluents, chemicals, pesticides, has made the river extremely toxic. Over the years, many environmentalists and reporters have discovered metals and plastic in the stomachs of gharials and fish. But the problem does not stop here. The highly-degraded water continues its journey through Rajasthan and eventually ends as a confluence of five rivers – Kwari, Yamuna, Sind, Chambal and Pahuj; thus, further degrading the quality of other rivers.
As people in Rajasthan continue to indulge in intensive agriculture, and tend to flatten or level ravines along the Chambal basin to try and improve productivity, it only results in the destruction of the ecology which makes it prone to erosion. This further threatens the river.
The Chambal river forms an integral part of our culture, and it has even been mentioned in the Mahabharata as ‘Charmanyavati’. It is not only important to protect the river for the survival of the aquatic life that thrives in it, but also the human lives and livelihoods that depend on it.