Assam · brahmaputra · Dam Induced Flood Disaster · Floods

Role of Doyang Dam in bringing unprecedented floods in Golaghat

When Dhansiri river broke the highest flood level mark at Numaligarh site in early hours of Aug 2, 2018 in Golaghat district in Assam, it was not only completely out of the blue, the whole episode was unprecedented.

The earlier Highest Flood Level of Dhansiri River at Numaligarh was 79.87 m. The new HFL, it seems, was 80.18 m, full 31 cm above the previous HFL. This is rather rare, normally the new HFL would be a few cm higher, not almost one third of a meter. Secondly, the water level remained above 79.87 cm, the old HFL, for over 60 hours. This is also unusual, normally the water level rarely remains above HFL for more than a day or so. Thirdly, the earlier HFL was achieved on Sept 24, 1985, so this sudden episode of flood was breaking 33 year old record. Continue reading “Role of Doyang Dam in bringing unprecedented floods in Golaghat”

brahmaputra · China · Siang

Muddy Siang is sign of danger ahead, wake up call for Indian authorities

The current ongoing episode of Muddy Siang River water in Arunachal Pradesh is due to landslides in the upstream Tibet, triggered by the earthquakes starting on Nov 17, 2017 or possibly earlier. This is revealed by the satellite pictures and work of two researchers, first published in Arunachal Times on Dec 21, 2017[i]. These landslides are partly blocking the Siang flow and could lead to massive floods in the downstream Arunachal Pradesh and Assam any day.

A similar event in year 2000 led to sudden, massive floods in Siang River in Arunachal Pradesh on June 1, 2000. That episode, like the current one, started about 53 days before the floods, on April 9, 2000 due to landslides along a tributary of Yarlung Tsangpo, as Siang is known in Tibet. Continue reading “Muddy Siang is sign of danger ahead, wake up call for Indian authorities”

Arunachal Pradesh · Assam · brahmaputra · Dams · Lohit River

‘Banks of the Lohit will shine’: Glimpses of a free-flowing river

Above: Lohit River, Parshuram Kund on the right. Photo: Parineeta Dandekar

Assam, Arunachal and the North East India, West Bengal and Bangladesh are riverine entities in many ways. Ancient rivers flowing through this landscape have moulded not only the mountains and the silt-heavy banks, but cultural identity of the region itself.  Rivers permeate through the literature, folklore, songs, poems, cuisine, even dressing… Bhupen Hazarika, the Bard of the Brahmaputra, likened the red ripples of the Assamese Gamcha (red and white stole)  to the braided filigree of the Red River. When Guwahati University opened on the banks of Luit, Hazarika sang “Jilikabo Luiter Paar”..Banks of the Luit will Shine. Rivers stood for revolution as they stood for Love.. Jyoti Prasad Agarwal wrote “Luitar Parore Ami Deka Lora.. Moribole Bhoi Nai.” (“We are the youth from the banks of the Luit/ We are not afraid of death”). Older poets like Parvato Prasad Baruah wrote entire books full of poems of Luit and today modern poets in Assam like Jeeban Narah  link their creative processes inextricably to rivers. Continue reading “‘Banks of the Lohit will shine’: Glimpses of a free-flowing river”

brahmaputra · DRP News Bulletin · Floods · Ganga

DRP News Bulletin 14 August 2017 East & North East India face flooded Independence day


SANDRP BLOG: Brahmaputra basin to face unprecedented floods starting Aug 12, 2017:

North Bengal Flood situation “Cooch Behar, North Dinajpur, Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri and Darjeeling are the five districts which have been affected by the flood. Earlier in the day, Irrigation Minister Rajib Banerjee said that the state government is tackling the flood in north Bengal on war footing.” 58,000 people had been affected in Alipurduar, Jalpaiguri and Cooch Behar districts.


Assam · brahmaputra · Dams · Floods · West Bengal

Brahmaputra basin faces unprecedented flood wave in Aug 2017

In the morning of Aug 11, 2017, while checking my daily morning routine sites, I saw the sudden appearance of purple patch (signifying rainfall in access of 175 mm rainfall in previous 24 hours) on NASA daily rainfall accumulation map for Indian subcontinent.[i] The purpose  patch covered parts of the West Bengal, North East Indian and Bangladesh. I was taken aback, but it was not very unusual to see in the peak of monsoon. So as we usually do, I took a screenshot and put up on SANDRP FB page with a warning that this could lead to floods. I did not realize that this was the beginning of an unprecedented wave of floods for these regions that may extend to Ganga basin as I write this. Such purple patches generally disappear in 24 hours, since the rains do not last to long. However, in the case of current phase, not only the purple patch has last now for 42 hours, it has extended  to the west, all along India Nepal region along the southern boundary of Nepal.   Continue reading “Brahmaputra basin faces unprecedented flood wave in Aug 2017”

Bangladesh · brahmaputra · Sikkim · Teesta · West Bengal

Retracing Her Path 1: A Journey along the Teesta River in Bangladesh

Above: A local fisherman fishing upstream of the barrage (Photo: Gauri Noolkar-Oak)

Guest Blog by Gauri Noolkar-Oak

Few journeys take us through a string of experiences that nourish the senses and the soul. A thoroughbred urban, city-lover, I nevertheless knew deep down that my journey of such nourishment would be with a river. I began researching rivers by chance, but with time, I grew to first like and then worship the entity. In early 2017, I acquired a grant from the Joke Waller-Hunter Initiative to study water conflicts in the Teesta basin, and I knew: this was going to be it.

My journey was inspired by the book “Empires of the Indus” written by Alice Albania, a brave woman who travelled the Indus river from mouth to source, and explored her history and cultures. But beyond that, I hardly had a plan; I did not know how long the journey would take, whether I would be able to see the whole river, and when I would return home.  When I landed in Dhaka at the end of April this year, all I knew was that I wanted to see the Teesta right from her confluence with the Brahmaputra River in Bangladesh all the way up to her source at Tso Lamo in Sikkim, on the Indo-China border. Continue reading “Retracing Her Path 1: A Journey along the Teesta River in Bangladesh”

Arunachal Pradesh · Assam · brahmaputra

Is government at all serious in addressing the issues raised by Movement against the Lower Subansiri Hydropower Project?

Minutes of Government of India meeting on Lower Subansiri HEP in Dec 2014 rejected by movement:

Shoddy Cumulative impact assessments, lack of public consultations won’t help

Map of Subansiri RIver Basin  Source:
Map of Subansiri RIver Basin

Continue reading “Is government at all serious in addressing the issues raised by Movement against the Lower Subansiri Hydropower Project?”

brahmaputra · Dams · Hydropower

WRIS River Basin Reports: Hits and Misses

Reliable data and information that is both correct and validated on ground, is a pre requisite to understand any feature or activity. And for a river, a constantly evolving and truly complex entity, it becomes even more crucial. The wellness quotient of rivers, their present health status, all these and more can only be understood, once we have the rudimentary knowledge of the river and the basins that they form.

A step in this direction has been taken up by the India WRIS (Water Resources Information System) project (A joint venture between Central Water Commission and Indian Space Research Organisation), that aims “to provide a ‘Single Window Solution’ for water resources data & information in a standardized national GIS framework”[i]. This project has generated 20 basin level reports that share important information on the salient features of the basin, their division into sub basins, the river systems that flow through it and the water resource structures, such as irrigation & hydro electric projects in the basin. Another crucial inclusion is the length of major rivers in each basin, which have been GIS calculated (Geographic information system)[ii] and in a few reports the place of origin of the rivers too is mentioned. (Ganga Basin Report). This is an improvement over the earlier documented river lengths that included the canal length along with the river lengths, in earlier CWC documents (e.g. water and related statistics)!

The Basin reports include basin level maps which also show the proposed inter basin transfer links and the major water resource structures & projects. Individual maps at the sub basin level mark the rivers & their watersheds. The report gives details on the topography, climate, the land use / land cover area , and also the information on hydro meteorological stations like groundwater observation cells, flood forecasting sites and even water tourism sites.

These reports can be downloaded from the WRIS site.[iii]

The reports are an attempt to document the water resources data & information for a better and more integrated planning, at the basin level. A table below tabulates some important parameters from the 20 basin reports.

Missing Dams! It can be seen from table on next page that total number of dams in all the 20 basins come to 4572. Assuming that this includes all the completed large dams in India by Dec 2013 (WRIS report is dated March 2014), if we look at the number of large dams  in India as in Dec 2013 in the National Register of Large Dams (NRLD), the figure is 4845. This leaves a difference of 273 large dams, which are missing from the WRIS list! This seems like a big descripancy. Unfortunately, since NRLD gives only statewise list and does not provide river basin wise list and since WRIS list provides only river basin wise list and does not provide the names of districts and states, it is not possible to check which are the missing dams, but WRIS need to answer that.

Sub Basins These 20 basins have been further delineated into a number of sub basins. The sub basins details include the geographical extent of the sub basin, the rivers flowing in it, the states that they travel through, number and size range of watersheds and also the details of dams, weirs, barrages, anicuts, lifts & power houses, accompanied by maps at this level. The irrigation and hydro electric projects in the area are detailed and mapped for greater convenience. The sub basin list is given here to get a detailed picure.

Indus Basin Sub-basins:

River Dras in Indus Basin in Jammu and Kashmir (Photo by Sabita Kaushal)
River Dras in Indus Basin in Jammu and Kashmir (Photo by Sabita Kaushal)
  1. Beas Sub Basin
  2. Chenab Sub Basin
  3. Ghaghar and others Sub Basin
  4. Gilgit Sub Basin
  5. Jhelum Sub Basin
  6. Lower Indus Sub Basin
  7. Ravi Sub Basin
  8. Shyok Sub Basin
  9. Satluj Lower Sub Basin
  10. Satluj Upper Sub Basin
  11. Upper Indus Sub Basin
S. No River Basin Major river No. of sub basins No. of watersheds No. of water resource structures No. of water resource projects
Irrigation Hydro  Electric
Dams Barrages Weirs Anicuts Lifts Power Houses Major Medium ERM*
1 Indus (Upto border) Indus (India) 11 497 39 13 18 0 45 59 30 40 21 55
2a Ganga Ganga 19 980 784 66 92 1 45 56 144 334 63 39
b Brahmaputra Brahmaputra (India) 2 180 16 17 5 0 4 21 9 13 3 17
c Barak & others basin Barak 3 77 4 3 0 0 0 3 0 6 3 3
3 Godavari Godavari 8 466 921 28 18 1 62 16 70 216 6 14
4 Krishna Krishna 7 391 660 12 58 6 119 35 76 135 10 30
5 Cauvery Cauvery 3 132 96 10 16 9 24 16 42 3 15
6 Subernarekha Subernarekha & Burhabalang 1 45 38 4 12 0 0 3 5 34 0 1
7 Brahmani & Baitarni Brahmani & Baitarni 2 79 61 5 4 1 0 1 8 35 4 1
8 Mahanadi Mahanadi 3 227 253 14 13 0 1 6 24 50 16 5
9 Pennar Pennar 2 90 58 0 1 2 0 1 7 14 0 1
10 Mahi Mahi 2 63 134 0 4 0 0 3 10 29 3 2
11 Sabarmati Sabarmati 2 51 50 2 10 0 0 0 9 11 4
12 Narmada Narmada 3 150 277 2 2 0 4 9 21 23 1 6
13 Tapi Tapi 3 100 356 8 11 0 13 2 13 68 2 1
14 WFR Tapi to Tadri Many independent rivers flowing 2 96 219 0 3 0 1 18 13 15 1 12
15 WFR Tadri to Kanyakumari 3 92 69 6 6 4 0 29 19 12 7 21
16 EFR  Mahanadi_ Pennar 4 132 64 5 12 12 0 0 12 46 10 0
17 EFR Pennar _ Kanyakumari 4 165 61 2 2 11 0 6 13 33 4 5
18 WFR Kutch _ Saurashtra Luni 6 268 408 1 10 0 0 0 8 100 4 15
19 Area of inland drainage in Rajasthan Many independent rivers flowing 1 0 0 0 48 0 11 1 1 0
20 Minor rivers draining into Myanmar(Burma) & Bangladesh Many independent rivers flowing 4 54 3 5 0 0 3 3 4 1
  Total 94 4335 4572 203  335

* Extension, Renovation and Modernization                                                                                                                                  ** Data has been accumulated from the individual Basin Reports from India WRIS[iv]

Ganga Basin

  1. Yamuna Lower
  2. Yamuna Middle
  3. Yamuna Upper
  4. Chambal Upper
  5. Chambal Lower
  6. Tons
  7. Kosi
  8. Sone
  9. Ramganga
  10. Gomti
  11. Ghaghara
  12. Ghaghara confluence to Gomti confluence
  13. Gandak & others
  14. Damodar
  15. Above Ramganaga Confluence
  16. Banas
  17. Bhagirathi & others ( Ganga Lower)
  18. Upstream of Gomti confluence to Muzaffarnagar
  19. Kali Sindh and others up to Confluence with Parbati

Brahmaputra Basin It is strange to see that the profile divides this huge basin into just two sub basins, when it could have easily divided into many others like: Lohit, Kameng, Siang, Subansiri, Tawang, Pare, Teesta, Manas, Sankosh, among others.

  1. Brahmaputra Lower
  2. Brahmaputra Upper

Barak & Others Basin

  1. Barak and Others
  2. Kynchiang & Other south flowing rivers
  3. Naochchara & Others

Godavri Basin

  1. Wardha
  2. Weinganga
  3. Godavari Lower
  4. Godavari Middle
  5. Godavari Upper
  6. Indravati
  7. Manjra
  8. Pranhita and others

Krishna Basin

  1. Bhima Lower Sub-basin
  2. Bhima Upper Sub-basin
  3. Krishna Lower Sub-basin
  4. Krishna Middle Sub-basin
  5. Krishna Upper Sub-basin
  6. Tungabhadra Lower Sub-basin
  7. Tungabhadra upper Sub-basin
Srisailam Dam on Krishna River (Source: Wikipedia)
Srisailam Dam on Krishna River (Source: Wikipedia)

Cauvery Basin

  1. Cauvery upper
  2. Cauvery middle
  3. Cauvery lower

Subernarekha Basin No sub-basins.

Brahmani & Baitarani Basin

  1. Brahmani
  2. Baitarani

Mahanadi Basin

  1. Mahanadi Upper Sub- basin
  2. Mahanadi Middle Sub- basin
  3. Mahanadi Lower Sub- basin

Pennar Basin

  1. Pennar Upper Sub-basin
  2. Pennar Lower Sub-basin

Mahi Basin

  1. Mahi Upper Sub-basin
  2. Mahi Lower Sub-basin

Sabarmati Basin

  1. Sabarmati Upper Sub- basin
  2. Sabarmati Lower Sub-basin

Narmada Basin

  1. Narmada Upper Sub-basin
  2. Narmada Middle Sub-basin
  3. Narmada Lower Sub-basin

Tapi Basin

  1. Upper Tapi Sub- Basin
  2. Middle Tapi Sub- Basin
  3. Lower Tapi Sub- Basin

West flowing rivers from Tapi to Tadri Basin

  1. Bhastol & other Sub- basin
  2. Vasisthi & other Sub- basin

West flowing rivers from Tadri to Kanyakumari Basin

  1. Netravati and others Sub- basin
  2. Varrar and others Sub- basin
  3. Periyar and others Sub- basin

East flowing rivers between Mahanadi & Pennar Basin

  1. Vamsadhara & other Sub- basin
  2. Nagvati & other Sub- basin
  3. East Flowing River between Godavari and Krishna Sub- basin
  4. East flowing River between Krishna and Pennar Sub- basin

 East flowing rivers between Pennar and Kanyakumari Basin

  1. Palar and other Sub-basin
  2. Ponnaiyar and other Sub-basin
  3. Vaippar and other Sub-basin
  4. Pamba and other Sub-basin

West Flowing Rivers of Kutch and Saurashtra including Luni Basin

  1. Luni Upper Sub-basin
  2. Luni Lower Sub-basin
  3. Saraswati Sub-basin
  4. Drainage of Rann Sub-basin
  5. Bhadar and other West Flowing Rivers
  6. Shetrunji and other East Flowing Rivers Sub-basin

Area of inland drainage in Rajasthan Due to very flat terrain and non-existence of permanent drainage network, this basin has not been further sub divided.

Minor rivers draining into Myanmar and Bangladesh

  1. Imphal and Others sub basin
  2. Karnaphuli and Others sub basin
  3. Mangpui Lui and Others sub basin
  4. Muhury and Others sub basin

Narmada Basin: Some details To understand the compiled information at the basin level, we take a look at the one of the basin level reports, the Narmada Basin Report[v] (dated March 2014) as an illustrative example. An overview of the basin area right at the beginning, gives its geographical location, shape, size, topography, climate & population. This basic relevant information is tabulated in a concise table for easy access, as given below:

Salient Features of Narmada Basin from WRIS Basin Report
Salient Features of Narmada Basin from WRIS Basin Report

River information The major river flowing in the basin, the Narmada River (also called Rewa) that flows through the 3 states of Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra & Gujarat, its length (1333 km) and the length of its 19 major tributaries out of a total of 41 is given, based on GIS calculations. There is also a clear river network map of the Narmada basin that demarcates the 3 sub basins along with the watersheds, and shows the dams / weirs /barrages and the rivers in the basin.

Narmada Basin Report Cover Page (Source: WRIS)
Narmada Basin Report Cover Page (Source: WRIS)
  • Narmada Upper Sub-Basin, with 16 watersheds
  • Narmada Middle Sub-Basin, having 63 watersheds
  • Narmada Lower Sub-Basin, with 71 watersheds

The surface water bodies details include the size (less than 25 ha to more than 2500 ha) and type (Tanks, lakes, reservoirs, abandoned quarries or ponds) of existing bodies. Nearly 91.8% of these are tanks.

Irrigation Projects The water resource projects in the basin are as follows:

  • 21 Major Irrigation Projects
  • 23 Medium Irrigation Projects
  • 1 ERM Project
  • 6 Hydro-Electric Projects

Interestingly description is only of the major and medium irrigation projects, information on minor projects is completely absent. An attempt to include the details of minor irrigation projects would have made the report more useful. The reports seem to not understand the significance of the smaller projects  and their importance for the people and in the conext of the River Basin too.

Water resource structures The number and type of big manmade structures in the basin is given. These are a total of 277 dams, 2 barrages, 2 weirs and 4 lifts, of which again the major structures are marked on a map, and details given as in table below. Dams are classified on the basis of storage and purpose they are used for, and the dam numbers are available at sub basin level.

Narmada Sub Basin details from WRIS Basin Report
Narmada Sub Basin details from WRIS Basin Report

The report gives tabulated data for each of the dams, which is supposed to have name of the river, height, length, purpose, year of commissioning, etc. Since GIS is the strength of ISRO, they could have easily given latitude and longitudes of each dam, but they have not. Shockingly, in case of 186 of the dams, name of the river on which it is built is given as ‘Local Nallah’, and in case of 10 they have left the column blank. This means for nearly 71% (196 out of 277) of the dams they do not even know the name of the river they are build on. This is actually an improvement over the performance of CWC. The CWC’s National Register of Large Dams[vi], we just checked, mentions Narmada only 13 times (for 12 dams of Gujarat and 1 dam of Madhya Pradesh).[vii]

It is well known that Narmada Basin is the theatre of India’s longest and most famous anti dam movement, Narmada Bachao Andolan. The movement involves opposition to Sardar Sarovar, Indira Sagar, Omkareshwar, Maheshwar, Jobat dams, among others. Such social aspects should also form part of any river basin report.

 Surface water quality There are 19 surface water quality observation sites in the basin, that collect water data and the report spells out , “As compared to the other rivers, the quality of Narmada water is quite good. Even near the point of origin, the quality of river water was in class ‘C’ in the year 2001 while it was in class ‘B’ in earlier years. As was observed for most other rivers, in case of Narmada also, BOD and Total Coliform are critical parameters.” This shows that even in Narmada Basin, water quality is deteriorating. The statement also remains vague in absence of specifics.

Inter basin transfer links Details of the Par-Tapi-Narmada Link, which is a 401 km long gravity canal and its proposal to transfer 1,350 MCM (Million Cubic metre) of water from ‘surplus rivers’ to ‘water deficit’ areas is given, along with a map. How has the conclusion of surplus or deficit been reached? Does the assessment exhaust all the options including rainwater harvesting, watershed development, groundwater recharge, better cropping patterns and methods, demand side management, optimising use of existing infrastructure, etc? Is this is the least cost option? Does the water balance include groundwater? Who all will be affected by this or even how much land area will be affected by this proposal, there is absolutely no talk of this? No answers in the report.

India River Basins Map (Source - WRIS)
India River Basins Map (Source – WRIS)

There’s more to a river There is no information in basin reports on the regulating or statutory bodies that have a say in the basin in the report. However, some information on the existing organisations and inter-state agreements at the various basin level is given at another WRIS location.[viii]

 The Basin reports for 20 basins are clearly an asset for understanding and analysing water resource situation. However, there is no mention of the numerous ecological, social and environmental services these rivers provide us with. The demographic details of the basin are available, but there is no information on the flora and fauna, who also need and thrive on the river waters. A good navigation tool for water resource information and river management projects at basin level, nevertheless, for a broader and more comprehensive outlook these reports should have included the following essential aspects too:

  • River status: The present water quality & pollution level of the major rivers as well as their tributaries
  • River governance: The local committees, civil bodies and institutions that play a role in river basin development
  • River safety measures: Effect of the existing and planned river management projects on the state of the river, people and society.
  • River ecology: Status of biodiversity, and other ecological aspects of the rivers

Sabita Kausal, SANDRP (


[i] India WRIS:

[ii] GIS:


[iv] Basin Reports available for download:



[vii] For more details, see:


brahmaputra · Chenab · Ganga · Himachal Pradesh · Himalayas

How do dams affect a river?

That sounds like a rather innocent question and I was asked to write an article, addressing it. But before we go into that, let us try and understand a few things. Firstly, what is a River? Let us first try and understand that.

There is no single definition of this complex entity. For every definition, there is something more a river does.

Take the example of the one of the most complex rivers of all, the Ganga that we think we know. Before being a religious entity cultural icon, etc Ganga is, first & foremost, a River. A perennially flowing river like Ganga flows all the time. But that flow is not constant. It changes from day to night, from one day to another, from one season to another, one year to another, from one place to another.

And then, the Ganga that we know is not only a single river but a collection of rivers. So Yamuna, Bhagirathi, Alaknanda, Mandakini, Dhauliganga, Pinder, Ramganga, Kali, Tons, Gomti, Ghaghra, Sone, Gandak, Budhi Gandak, Kosi & Mahananda are some of the major tributaries that directly meet Ganga. Each of them is a river in its own right.

The Ganga Brahmaputra Basin Photo from: Wikimedia Commons
The Ganga Brahmaputra Basin Photo from: Wikimedia Commons

Take Yamuna for example. Some of its major direct tributaries include: Tons, Giri, Som, Sahibi, Hindon, Chambal, Sind, Betwa & Ken, each of them are again significantly big rivers.

Take Chambal, some of the major direct tributaries of Chambal include: Parbati, Kali Sindh (Lakhundar, Ahu, Parwan are some of the tributaries of Kali Sindh, Newaj is one of the tributaries of Parwan, Dudhi is one of the tributaries of Newaj), Banas, Ider, Retam, Sau, Kshipra, Chhoti Kali Sindh, Cham, Siwana, Kural: each of which is a river by its own right.

Take Parbati: some of the major tributaries of Parbati include: Papnaus Ajnal, Sewan Paru, Utawali, Paraparwa, Mawal, Tem, Bhader, Gochi, Gaumukh, Sunk, Negri, Chopan, Uproni, Duhral, Andheri, Beram, Kosam, Ahelil and Sukni. These are all rivers too!

We can go on like this much longer. But such is a vast network of rivers that we call Ganga.


Secondly what flows in a river is not just water, though most governments, official agencies & engineers see the rivers as channels of water. Flowing water is surely a major visible defining component of a river. But even a canal or a pipeline can claim that. But unlike a canal or pipeline, a river carries dissolved matter, suspended matter, bed load, microorganisms, many levels of aquatic flora and fauna.

Thirdly, a river is a connected entity. It is connected with upstream and downstream river, biodiversity & landmass, the terrestrial land & life, underground geology and groundwater aquifers and is also connected with the floodplain. Perennial rivers like Ganga meet the sea forming a delta and this connection is vital for the river and as well as the sea. The connections are so strong that a river provides a report card about what is happening upstream and downstream, if read carefully.

From: The River continuum Concept. Species in India will be different, but this represents how biological entitites in a river are linked to each other through a number of processes including nutrient spiralling
From: The River continuum Concept. Species in India will be different, but this represents how biological entitites in a river are linked to each other through a number of processes including nutrient spiralling

This is admittedly a partial description of a river, limited by the constraints of an article or blog. This is also a bit simplistic description of how humans deal with rivers, since there are exceptions. But this provides a broad direction of our journey with the rivers.

from :
from :

Apart from its many functions like ecological, hydrological, geomorphological ones, a river is also connected with the human society along the banks. The connection with human societies has been as long as the humans have existed. This connection is not really necessary for the river to survive, but we cannot say the same about human survival. Humans cannot survive without the rivers, though is doubtful if the human society understands or even acknowledges that reality.

More importantly, till about a century ago, our interaction with the rivers did not endanger the existence of the rivers themselves. But what we have been doing in last century has created existential threat for rivers. This threat comes in the form of big dams, diversions, chemical pollution from agriculture and industries, large dose of sewage pollution at major urban centers, encroachment on floodplains, deforestation, unsustainable groundwater use, riverfront developments, embankments, and climate change.

What humans have done to the rivers in last century can possibly be described as Terraforming (one of the grandest concepts in science fiction in which “advanced” societies reshape entire planets to suit their needs). Or what some geologists describe as Anthropocene, meaning a new geological age of humans to suggest that humans are now a planet transforming force.

It seems humans have stopped valuing the rivers as they exist in nature and decided that they can stop, bend, tunnel, channelise, divert, encroach, pollute the rivers. So when we build a dam, we do not put any value to the destruction of river & destruction of the services provided by a river that entails in the process of building the dam.

But let us get back to Rivers & what dams do to them. A river, by definition, must flow freely. A dam stops the free flow of river, and impacts the river in the most fundamental ways. In India when we construct a dam (e.g. Tehri), a hydropower project (e.g. 400 MW Vishnuprayag project on Alaknanda in Chamoli district in Uttarakhand) or diversion (Lower Ganga – Bhim Goda at Haridwar, Middle Ganga – Bijnor and Upper Ganga-Narora barrages), we do not have to leave any water for the downstream stretch of river. So complete drying up of the rivers for most of the dry months by these structures is the first direct impact of these structures on the river. To put it mildly, that action practically kills the river. Upstream of the dam too, the river gets killed, for immediate upstream there is stagnant water and further upstream, the river has lost its connections with the downstream river!

Dry Baspa River downstream Baspa II Dam, Himachal Pradesh
Dry Baspa River downstream Baspa II Dam, Himachal Pradesh Photo: SANDRP Partners

This is because these structures not only stop the flow of water to the downstream areas, they also stop flow of everything else that was flowing in the river: the silt, the nutrients, the sand, the organisms, the flora, fauna, and severe every one of the connections of rivers we described earlier

And imagine when a river has to face such death every few kilometers in its journey!

Density of dams in the Upper Ganga Basin Map by SANDRP
Density of dams in the Upper Ganga Basin Map by SANDRP


That is not all. As the river continues its journey, if the tributaries are flowing reasonably freely, there is some chance for the river to recover some of its defining characteristics. But we have dammed most major tributaries too.

To top it, we also have other elements that help kill the river, like pollution, encroachment, abstraction, etc, as described earlier.

And remember just about a century back Ganga and other rivers were not in such a bad shape. This is an achievement of less than 100 years.

Chandra Basin in Himachal Pradesh depicted by Nicholas Roerich in 1932. The same Chenab Basin now witnesses one of the highest dam densities in Himalayas. From: WikiArt
Chandra Basin in Himachal Pradesh depicted by Nicholas Roerich in 1932. The same Chenab Basin now witnesses one of the highest dam densities in Himalayas. From: WikiArt

Some people will read in this a plea to go back by those 100 years. That is not possible, and we all know that. But there are other ways to deal with the rivers. Human society can take what is needed for the society, without destroying the river.

This is true of Ganga, as any other River!

Himanshu Thakkar (,


This is 200th post from SANDRP! We always look forward to your suggestions and comments for improvement.

Our 100th Blog on River Conversations:



Assam · brahmaputra · Embankments · Floods

Matmora (Assam) Geo-tube Embankment on Brahmaputra: State Glorifies, but No End to Peoples’ Sufferings after Three Years of Construction

The state of Assam in the northeastern India annually bears the brunt of floods and where embankment construction and repairing seems like permanent affair. Displacement of people living on the banks of rivers due to river bank erosion is another major issue here. The braiding and meandering river Brahmaputra and its tributaries continue to erode the banks rapidly. The Brahmaputra is well known for the rate in which it erodes. Among the places in the path of the river where the brunt of erosion has been felt severely include the following:

–        Rohmoria and Dibrugarh town in Dibrugarh district,
–        Matmora in Dhakukhana subdivsion of Lakhimpur district,
–        Majuli and Nimati Ghat in Jorhat district,
–        Lahorighat in Morigaon district and
–        Palashbari and Gumi in Kamrup district.

Map of areas taken up for erosion protection in Assam (Source– Assam 2011, A Development Perspective, published by Planning and Development Dept., Govt. of Assam)
Map of areas taken up for erosion protection in Assam. Source– Assam 2011, A Development Perspective, published by Planning and Development Dept., Govt. of Assam

SANDRP recently traveled to Matmora and Nimati ghat, two of these areas.

Bearing the Brunt of Erosion Silently Once a large village now only the name Matmora remains. Locals show us towards the middle of the river, to indicate where the village used to be. The rate of erosion is such that the Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta (popularly known as Sissi-Tekeliphuta dyke/embankment) takes the shape of a bow for nearly five kilometers at this place. From 2010, Matmora became very significant in the embankment history of India since country’s first embankment using geo-textile technology was constructed here. This was constructed at the bow shaped eroded line using geotextiles tubes. These tubes were filled up using water and sand from the banks of the river. This five kilometer embankment became a part of the Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta which is 13.9 km long. For the state government and Water Resources Department (WRD) of Assam, Matmora geotube embankment is a story of success of preventing floods and erosion. But what we saw in Matmora presents a different picture.

At Nimati Ghat, the river Brahmaputra is eroding its banks ferociously and people are intimidated by the river. A local person whose village used to be nearly two kilometers from the present bank line, told me, “Nothing can stop Baba Brahmaputra from claiming what he wants”. At Nimati Ghat, the Water Resources Department (WRD) is doing anti erosion work using geo-bags.

Funding for Embankments in Assam The total length of embankments in Assam is 4448 km as stated in a debate in the Legislative Assembly of Assam in 1998. Even though the present length of embankments is not known, it is very clear that the state of Assam continues to construct of newer embankments. In a recent analysis by SANDRP, it was found that the funds continue to increase for construction of embankments in the state. In five years from January 2009 to December 2013, the Advisory Committee in the Union Ministry of Water Resources for consideration of techno-economic viability of Irrigation, Flood Control and Multi-Purpose Project Proposals (TAC in short) had given clearance to projects worth Rs 1762.72 crores. A detailed list of these sanctioned projects can be found in Annexure 1 below.

Matmora Geo-tube embankment after its construction in 2010. Source– Assam 2011, A Development Perspective, published by Planning and Development Dept., Govt. of Assam.
Matmora Geo-tube embankment after its construction in 2010. Source– Assam 2011, A Development Perspective, published by Planning and Development Dept., Govt. of Assam.

Has Geo-tube been helpful for the people   Between January 2009 to December 2013, the Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta, was considered twice by the TAC. The committee in its 95th meeting on 20th January 2009 accepted the project titled “Raising and Strengthening to Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta including closing of breach by retirement and anti-erosion measures (to protect Majuli and Dhakukhana areas against flood devastation by the Brahmaputra, Lakhimpur district, Assam). The estimated cost of this project was Rs 142.42 crore and its project proposal envisaged – (i) Raising and strengthening of embankment for a length of 13.9 km, (ii) Construction of retirement bund with geo-textile tubes of length 5000 m. (iii) Construction of 2700 m long pilot channel.

Geo-tube embankment in Matmora, three years after construction. Photo: SANDRP.
Geo-tube embankment in Matmora, three years after construction. Photo: SANDRP.

Protection work of the same dyke was considered in the 117th meeting held on 21st March 2013 under the proposal for “Protection of Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta at different reaches from Lotasur to Tekeliphuta from the erosion of river Brahmaputra Assam.” The estimated cost of this project was Rs 155.87 crore. According to the minutes of 117th TAC meeting, the scheme envisaged “restoration of existing embankment in a length of 15300m at upstream and downstream of existing geo-tube dyke, Sand filled mattress in a length of 15604 m at river side slope, geo-tube apron length of 7204 m and Reinforced concrete porcupines as pro-siltation device at different reaches to prevent floods and erosion in Dhakukhana Civil sub-division of Lakhimpur district and Majuli sub-division of Jorhat district.” In the same minutes,while referring to the previous project proposal of 95th meeting the minutes stated that, it “was taken up primarily for closure of breach in the existing embankment including raising of embankment around the breach area only. The proposed works in the present scheme were in the same river reach and these would be required to protect the bank from further erosion and provide flood protection.”

This clearly shows that the geo-tube embankment in Matmora cannot be called a success. Government documents which showed that major part of the Brahmaputra dyke from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta remained vulnerable even after the construction of the geo-tube embankment. In fact submitting a proposal for the whole Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment at first and later saying that the money was spent in constructing a smaller part of the embankment also raise questions. The time gap between the two proposals also raises questions. If the whole money from first proposal was to be spent in constructing only a part of the embankment, why was it not stated clearly in the first proposal? In fact, this was not stated in the first proposal and second proposal reflects that the first project failed to achieve the objectives. If the first proposal was indeed only for part of the embankment, why the proposal to strengthen the larger part of the embankment took 5 years to appear before the committee? The latter proposal also did not mention about the breach which swept away a large part of the Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment from Jonmichuk to Amgiri Tapit under Sissikalghar and Jorkata village panchayat. According to the local people this breach occurred in the morning hours of 25th June 2012. The photo below shows the breach happened at the Jonmichuk end.

The breached area of 2012. This photo is taken from the new embankment and the lake formed at this spot can also be seen. Photo - SANDRP
The breached area of 2012. This photo is taken from the new embankment and the lake formed at this spot can also be seen. Photo – SANDRP

Jonminchuk area is nearly 15 km upstream of the geotube embankment in Matmora and part of the Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment. A new embankment of nearly four kilometer long is being constructed at this place but the remnants of the old embankment still exist. The embankment was breached for nearly 3 kms and the water which entered the fields during that time could no longer go out and a large lake has been formed at this place, see the photo. It was surprising to see people living in the patches of the old embankment.

In the downstream, right from the point where the geo-tube embankment ends, the condition of the Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment is pathetic. There were cracks in the embankment and water seepage has almost shattered the embankment. The embankment was in need of urgent repairs.

Condition of the Sissi-Tekelphuta embankment at the end point of the geo-tube embankment towards the village side. Photo - SANDRP
Condition of the Sissi-Tekelphuta embankment at the end point of the geo-tube embankment towards the village side. Photo – SANDRP
Sissi-Tekelphuta embankment at the same spot mentioned above towards the river side.  Photo - SANDRP
Sissi-Tekelphuta embankment at the same spot mentioned above towards the river side. Photo – SANDRP

Besides, one does not have to travel far to find erosion in the downstream of the geo-tube embankment. After travelling, less than three kilometers from the end point of the geo-tube embankment, rapid erosion was observed at the place where the Matmora and Tekeliphuta ghats join, due to low water level. This joint ghat is more than a kilometer from the toe line of Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment but seeing the rapidity of the erosion the locals opine that the river would reach the toe of the embankment within this monsoon. It was difficult to believe that the river can erode so fast, until a young man pointed towards a black line in the middle of the river and said that that area which now seemed to be char/sand bar used to be his village three years back. He with his family now live beside the embankment. In this ghat we also witnessed that spurs constructed from the embankment inside the river, mainly to divert the flow of water, have been eroded as well.

The Spur has also been eroded. Photo - SANDRP
The Spur has also been eroded. Photo – SANDRP
Erosion at Matmora-Tekeliphuta Ghat. Photo - SANDRP
Erosion at Matmora-Tekeliphuta Ghat. Photo – SANDRP

It is also important to note that protection of Majuli from floods was one of the main aims of the geo-tube embankment project, but there were reports of devastating floods affecting Majuli in 2012 & 2013.

After geo-tube comes geo bags With the construction of geo-tube embankments being hailed as a success by the state government, construction of embankments using geo-bags followed. Geo-bags are smaller than geo-tubes and come at a cheaper cost. Embankments on many rivers were constructed using geo-bags which were also used for erosion protection. But effectiveness of the geo-bags as protective measure to flood and erosion, still remains disputed. A news report titled “ADB, river engineers differ on geo-bags” published in Assam Tribune on 9th September 2010 reported about the difference of opinion among the water resource engineers of Assam and powerful lobby of the Asian Development Bank (ADB) for the use of geo-bags to resist Brahmaputra erosion in Palasbari-Gumi and Dibrugarh. Referring to the engineers the news report stated “They have alleged that the ADB provided 23,000 geo-bags for an experiment. They were dumped in the month of September 2009 at a 150-metre-long selected erosion-prone reach at Gumi for testing their efficacy. But, a diving observation made in the month of December 2009, suggested that the bags were not launched uniformly in a single layer as it was claimed. They were found lying in a haphazard manner in staggered heaps with gaps in between and the total distance they covered was only about 8 metres, against the claimed and required 35 metres…..The ADB then carried out another diving observation at Gumi in May last (2010) and found no bag at the site. The State WRD did not get any feedback from the ADB on this issue.”

Work of piling up the geo-bags is going on in Nimati Ghat. Photo - SANDRP
Work of piling up the geo-bags is going on in Nimati Ghat. Photo – SANDRP
Status of the geo-bags put last year. Photo - SANDRP
Status of the geo-bags put last year. Photo – SANDRP
The spot where not a single Geo-bag was seen.  Photo - SANDRP
The spot where not a single Geo-bag was seen. Photo – SANDRP

Nimati Ghat was the other place which SANDRP visited to find out the effectiveness of geo-bags. The work of piling up the geo-bags for erosion protection was going on when SANDRP visited the area in the second week of April 2014. The bags which were used previously for the same purpose were seen to be mostly lying in water in shattered condition. Locals told us that majority of the bags are now under water. In the eroded bank line, these geo-bags were lying without any order and in a way suggesting how the river has dealt or to say played with these jumbo bags. In this bank line, there was a stretch of nearly five meters where the river has eroded more than the other parts. At this stretch none of the geo-bags were to be seen.

There were also contradictions regarding when the present erosion protection work at Nimati ghat had started. Some of the shopkeepers of the ghat said that the work of putting up geo-bags started in February 2014. But according to the contractor in charge of the work, the work started in November 2013. Construction or repairing of embankment just few months before the advent of monsoons is one of the constant criticisms, leveled against the Water Resources department of the state and in Nimati too we heard the same complaint.

Is Geo-tube really a ‘permanent solution’ to floods? In the present discourse of floods in Assam this has become a very significant question. The local people have been fed with various information about geo-tube and most of which are wrong. The life of embankment constructed using geo-tube is of 100 years, we were told by the locals when we travelled to the upstream areas of Matmora geo-tube. This is absolutely not true. In fact, for Prof Chandan Mahanta of IIT Guwahati the scouring[1] done by the river Brahmaputra will be the major cause of concern for geo-tube embankments in the long run.

The geo-tube embankment has already faced threat of scouring right after its construction in the monsoons of 2011. It was on the morning of 14th July, 2011 when two of the apron tubes at the tail of the embankment, were launched due to increase force of water. The apron tubes were laid at the toe of the geo-tube embankment and with the increased force of water scoured at the bottom by the embankment toe line. WRD engineers flung into action and immediate repairing work was taken up at the site. According to WRD engineers this had happened because the trees which were  left outside the  embankment  had  obstructed  and  increased  the  force  of  water and they were immediately cut down. Concrete porcupines were also thrown into the water. Asomiya Pratidin, a regional newspaper reported this on that day but thereafter no report on this could be found. The incident was almost forgotten. When we visited the geo-tube embankment, it was observed that along the toe-line of the embankment a scour line runs for substantial length of the embankment. This clearly shows that scouring by the river has increased in this area. The news report published in Assam Tribune [2]also points out a significant problem associated with geo-bags – “The lobby is mounting pressure for use of geo-bags in the form of bank revetment. Bank revetment is generally not adopted in Brahmaputra because of many reasons. Most important of them is – it produces a permanent deep channel along the existing riverbank.”

On the issue of lobbying behind geo-tube, an interesting perspective was provided by activist-researcher Keshoba Krishna Chatradhara who coordinates ‘Peoples’ Movement for Subansiri and Brahmaputra Valley (PMSBV)’. He opines that the construction of geo-tube embankment in Matmora was an experiment, done to see whether such embankments can withstand the flood and erosion of Brahmaputra. The reason for choosing Matmora first and not other severe erosion affected places like Dibrugarh or Rohmoria, was because even if the embankment fails it won’t be as significant loss for the state compared to those places. Dibrugarh is one of the most important towns of upper Assam with a glorious history whereas Rohmoria became important for the state when Oil India Limited found oil deposits in Khagorijan[3]. Infact several local people and activists also opined that the Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment which is on the north bank of the river was cut several times, to save the areas in the upstream south bank, mainly the Dibrugarh town. They said that in the past, before the geo-tube embankment came, whenever there was any news of water rising in Dibrugarh, there would soon be a breach in Sissi-tekeliphuta embankment. In fact considering these breaches in the larger Sissi-tekeliphuta embankment, Mr. Chatradhara opined that even if the geo-tube embankment survives the flood, erosion and breaches in future, it might become a small island in midst of a submerged land as there will surely be breaches in the rest of the Sissi-Tekeliphuta embankment.

ADB loan for Geo-textile Embankments in Assam After the construction of the geo-tube embankment at Matmora, the state government is leaving no stone unturned to make it sound like a glorious success. But it is surprising to know that, even before the Matmora embankment was commissioned in December 2010, the state government have filed proposal for two more embankment project where geo-textile would be used for construction and got it cleared. The two subprojects of Assam Integrated Flood River Bank Erosion Risk Management Project (AIFRERM) in Dibrugarh and Palashbari were cleared in the 106th meeting of TAC held on 16th September 2010. It is important to note that for the total AIFRERM project ADB is giving a loan of $56.9 million. The cost of Dibrugarh and Palashbari subprojects are Rs 61.33 crore and Rs 129.49 crore respectively. But these investments have been cleared without even doing a post-construction impact assessment of Matmora geo-textile embankment. The Palashbari subproject also included erosion protection for Gumi area through the use of geo-bags but the Assam Tribune report quoted above already mentioned about how geo-bags scheme has failed in that area.

It is important to note here that, the first geo-tube embankment has been constructed only three years back and it would be premature to give any verdict of success, on the contrary there are many signs of failure. But the state government of Assam and the Assam Water Resources department are claiming it as success without really any credible basis and than have used that self certification to go on building more embankments using geo-textile and in several occasions these plans have failed. They first should have done a detailed impact assessment of the embankment at Matmora before going on building more embankments of the same nature.

It seems the Assam government, ADB and CWC are pushing these projects to deflect attention from the failure of embankments in flood management. Such attempts won’t succeed, but it is possibly a ploy to prolong the use of embankments as a flood management technique.

Parag Jyoti Saikia (

Annexure 1

Flood and Erosion Projects approved for Assam – 2009 to 2013

TAC meeting no & date Project Appr. year River/ Basin L of Emba. (m) Original (revised) Cost-CrRs Benefitting area (Ha) Decision
95th -20.01.2009 Protection of Sialmari Area from the erosion of Brahmputra 2002 Brahmaputra NA 14.29 (25.73) NA Accepted
Protection of Bhojaikhati, Doligaon and Ulubari area from the erosion 2002 Brahmaputra NA 14.52 (27.92) NA Accepted
Raising & strengthening Brahmputra Dyke from from Sissikalghar to Tekeliphuta including closing of breach by retirement and anti erosion measures New Brahmaputra NA 142.42 NA Accepted
96th -16.02.2009 Flood protection of Majuli Island from Flood and Erosion Ph-II & III New Brahmaputra NA 115.03 NA Accepted
Restoration of Dibang & Lohit rivers to their original courses at Dholla Hattiguli New Brahmaputra NA 23.32 (53.11) NA Accepted partly & suggested that proposal of coffer dam, pilot channel, etc. to be put up for expert opinion
101st -30.11.2009 Raising and strengthening to Puthimari embankment New Brahmaputra NA 30.23 15000 Accepted
Anti Erosion measures to protect Brahmputra Dyke on left bank New Brahmaputra NA 27.97 5000 Accepted
Protection of Gakhirkhitee & adjoining areas from erosion New Brahmaputra NA 19.06 20,000 Accepted
102 -28.1.’10 Emergent measures for protection of Rohmoria in Dibrugarh District New Brahmaputra NA 59.91 18,000 Accepted
106th -16.09.2010 Raising and strengthening of tributary dyke along both banks of Kopili River New Kopilli/ Brahmputra NA 110.72 NA Accepted
Assam Integrated Flood River Bank Erosion Risk Management Project New Brahmaputra NA 61.33 NA Accepted
Assam Integrated Flood River Bank Erosion Risk Management Project New Brahmaputra NA 129.49 NA Accepted
110th – 20.07.2011 Protection of Majuli from Flood and Erosion Ph II & III 2011 Brahmaputra 115.03 Accepted
Restoration fo rivers Dibang & Lohit to their original courses at Dholla Hatighuli 2011 Brahmaputra 54.43 Accepted
111th – 17.08.2011 Protection of Biswanath Panpur including areas of upstream Silamari and Far downstream Bhumuraguri to Borgaon against erosion New Brahmaputra 167.09 Accepted
117 – 21.3.’13 Protecion of Sissi-Tekeliphuta dyke from erosion – Lotasur to Tekeliphuta New Brahmaputra 153000 m 155.87 153000 m Accepted
118th – 30.07.2013 Flood management of Dikrong along with river training works on both banks embankment New Dikrong/Brahmaputra 105.96 Accepted
Flood management of Ranganadi along with river training works on both bank embankments New Ranganadi/Brahmaputra 361.42 Accepted

[1] Scour can be termed as a specific form of the more general term erosion. In case of geo-tube embankments Scour is the removal of sediment from the bottom of the geo-tubes. Scour, caused by swiftly moving water, can scoop out scour holes, compromising the integrity of a structure.

[2] ADB, river engineers differ on geo-bags –

[3] See ‘Rohmoria’s Challenge: Natural Disasters, Popular Protests and State Apathy’ published in Economic and Political Weekly, Vol XLVI NO 2, Janurary 8, 2011.