Major rivers of India

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Map of the major rivers, lakes, and reservoirs in India
Map showing rivers and flood prone areas in India

Rivers of India play an important role in the lives of the Indian people. The river systems provide irrigation, potable water, cheap transportation, electricity, and the livelihoods for a large number of people all over the country and to rural areas. This easily explains why nearly all the major cities of India are located by the banks of rivers. The rivers also have an important role in Hindu Dharma and are considered holy by all Hindus in the country.[1]

Seven major rivers along with their numerous tributaries make up the river system of India. The largest basin system of the rivers pour their waters into the Bay of Bengal; however, some of the rivers whose courses take them through the western part of the country and towards the east of the state of Himachal Pradesh empty into the Arabian Sea. Parts of Ladakh, northern parts of the Aravalli range and the arid parts of the Thar Desert have inland drainage.

All major rivers of India originate from one of the three main watersheds:

  1. The Himalaya and the Karakoram ranges
  2. Vindhya and Satpura ranges and Chotanagpur plateau in central India
  3. Sahyadri or Western Ghats in western India

The Indo-Gangetic Plains[edit]

Popularly known as Ganga-Satluj Ka Maidaan (गँगा सतलज का मैदान), this area is drained by 16 major rivers. The major Himalayan Rivers are the Indus, Ganges, and Brahmaputra. These rivers are long,and are joined by many large and important tributaries. Himalayan rivers have long courses from their source to sea.(in India Arabian sea and Bay of Bengal)

Ganges River System[edit]

The major rivers in this system are (in order of merging, from west to east)

  • Ganga - Starting from Gangotri Glacier, Uttarakhand
  • Chambal - Not Himalayan river, covers MP and UP before merging into Yamuna
  • Betwa - Not Himalayan river, covers Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh before merging into Yamuna
  • Yamuna - Yamuna runs its most of the course parallel to Ganga before contributing its water to Ganga at Allahabad
  • Gomti - Starts near the junction of three borders viz. Nepal, Uttarakhand and UP
  • Ghaghra - Starts in Nepal near Uttarakhand
  • Son - Not Himalayan river, covers MP, UP, Jharkhand and Bihar. Largest of Ganga's southern tributaries
  • Gandak - Starts from Nepal
  • Kosi - Starts from Bihar, near Indo-Nepal border
  • Brahmputra - Merges with Ganga to form the grand river (but short in length) - Padma in Bangladesh. By now, flow velocity of both rivers slow down to considerable extent as they are in plains now.

Before entering Bangladesh, Ganga leaves a distributary Hugli, which provides water for irrigation in West Bengal

Indus River System[edit]

The 'Indus River originates in the northern slopes of the Kailash range near Lake Mansarovar in Tibet. Although most of the river's course runs through neighbouring Pakistan, as per as regulation of Indus water treaty of 1960, India can only use only 20 percent of the water in this river. A portion of it does run through Indian territory, as do parts of the courses of its five major tributaries, listed below. These tributaries are the source of the name of the Punjab of South Asia; the name is derived from the punch ("five") and aab ("water"), hence the combination of the words (Punjab) means "land with the water of five rivers". The Indus is 3200 km long.

The major rivers in Indus river system are (in order of their length):

Annual flows and other data[edit]

India experiences an average precipitation of 1,170 mm per year, or about 4,000 km3 of rains annually.[2] Some 80% of its area experiences rains of 750 mm or more a year. However, this rain is not uniform in time or geography. Most of the rains occur during its monsoon seasons (June to September), with the northeast and north receiving far more rains than India's west and south. Other than rains, the melting of snow year round over the Himalayas feeds the northern rivers to varying degrees. The southern rivers, however experience more flow variability over the year. For the Himalayan basin, this leads to flooding in some months and water scarcity in others. Despite extensive river system, safe clean drinking water as well as irrigation water supplies for sustainable agriculture are in shortage across India, in part because it has, as yet, harnessed a small fraction of its available and recoverable surface water resource.[3] India harnessed 761 km3 (20%) of its water resources in 2010, part of which came from unsustainable use of groundwater. Of the water it withdrew from its rivers and groundwater wells, India dedicated about 688 km3 to irrigation, 56 km3 to municipal and drinking water applications and 17 km3 to industry.[2]

According to 2011 report of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, India's basin wise distribution of catchment area and utilizable surface water resources is presented in the following table:[2]

Basin number River basin unit Region Draining into Catchment area
(% of river
irrigated India)
Average
runoff
(km3)
Additional available
surface water
(km3)
1.1 Ganges (GBM) North  Bangladesh 26.5 525.02 250
1.2 Brahmaputra (GBM) Northeast  Bangladesh 6 537.24 24
1.3 Meghna/Barak (GBM) East  Bangladesh 1.5 48.36
2 Other Northeast rivers Northeast  Myanmar,
 Bangladesh
1.1 31
3 Subernarekha East-southeast Bay of Bengal 0.9 12.37
4 Brahmani-Baitarani East-southeast Bay of Bengal 1.6 28.48 6.8
5 Mahanadi Central-east Bay of Bengal 4.4 66.88 18.3
6 Godavari Central Bay of Bengal 9.7 110.54 50
7 Krishna Central Bay of Bengal 8 78.12 76.3
8 Pennar Southeast Bay of Bengal 1.7 6.32 58
9 Kaveri South Bay of Bengal 2.5 21.36 6.9
10 East flowing rivers between Mahanadi and Pennar Central-east Bay of Bengal 2.7 22.52 19
11 East flowing rivers between Kanyakumari and Pennar Southeast Bay of Bengal 3.1 16.46 13.1
12 West flowing rivers between Tadri and Kanyakumari Southwest Arabian Sea 1.7 113.53 16.7
13 West flowing rivers between Tapi and Tadri Southwest Arabian Sea 1.7 87.41 24.3
14 Tapi Central-west Arabian Sea 2 14.88 11.9
15 Narmada Central-west Arabian Sea 3.1 45.64 14.5
16 Mahi Northwest Arabian Sea 1.1 11.02 34.5
17 Sabarmati Northwest Arabian Sea 0.7 3.81 3.1
18 West flowing rivers between Kutsh and Saurashtra Northwest Arabian Sea 10 15.1 1.9
19 Rajasthan inland basin Northwest  India 0 Negligible 15
20 Indus tributaries Northwest  Pakistan,
 India
10 73.31 46
Total
(per International Treaty)
100 1869.37 690.3

The Peninsular River System[edit]

The main water divide in peninsular rivers is formed by the Western Ghats, which run from north to south close to the western coast. Most of the major rivers of the peninsula such as the Mahanadi, the Godavari, the Krishna and the Kaveri flow eastwards and drain into the Bay of Bengal. These rivers make delta at their mouth. The Narmada and Tapti are the only long rivers, which flow west and make estuaries.

text chart showing confluence of rivers in India
This chart shows the tributaries and distributaries of major rivers of India. The merging of cells to the right side each time indicates getting supply from a tributary and vice-versa. The bottom-most row shows other rivers with no major helping rivers (Saryu is an exception). Flow of the rivers is assumed to be from left to right.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Sunil Vaidyanathan, Rivers of India, ISBN 978-8189738884, 2012
  2. ^ a b c FAO, India - Rivers Catchment, Aquastat, United Nations (2011)
  3. ^ K.L. Rao, India's Water Wealth, ISBN 978-8125007043, 1979