Arunachal Pradesh · brahmaputra · Landslide dam

Landslide DAM on Tsangpo creates flood disaster risk for Siang

A massive dam, created by landslide in early hours (around 5 am) of Oct 17,2018 has blocked the main stream of Yarlung Tsangpo in Tibet. The reservoir behind the dam already has humungous 360 Million Cubic Meters (MCM) of water by 7 am on Oct 18, 2018 and as per latest reports (subsequently saw the CWC tweet put out at 955 pm on Oct 18,  saying  that storage had reached 484 MCM by 8 pm on Oct 18), the reservoir is still growing in size. The exact location of the landslide dam is uncertain. According to one source, the latitude longitude could be 94.93754° E, 29.74957° N, but this may not be accurate the likely location may be a few kilometers downstream from here. The Chinese media[i] has reported that the landslide dam is located at near Gyalha village in Milin or Manling county. According to some experts who visited the site, the dam could breach very soon, possibly on Oct 19, bringing massive floods along Siang river in Arunachal Pradesh. Continue reading “Landslide DAM on Tsangpo creates flood disaster risk for Siang”

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: