Surface Water Resources in India (with statistics)

The annual estimate of surface water in India is 1, 86,900 crore cubic metre. The main sources of surface water are rivers, lakes, ponds, tanks etc.

Most of the surface water flows through rivers. These are many rivers of large size and length in India which keep the land green and prosperous.


In the western part of India having Thar Desert however, there is no perennial river, though the artificially constructed Indira Gandhi Canal irrigates large areas in this desert. In southern India also there are many rivers. The total length of rivers of India is 2 lakh miles.

Rivers of IndiaIn India, there are two types of rivers:

(1) Perennial rivers of the north, and

(2) Seasonal rivers of southern India.


In northern India, 80 per cent of the non-saline water collected on the Himalayas flows in rivers Ganges, Yamuna, Indus and Brahmaputra and many others after melting, whereas in southern India, Mahanadi, Krishna, Kaveri, Godavari etc. are seasonal rivers. All these rivers merge into the Bay of Bengal except Narmada and Tapti rivers which pour their water into the Arabian Sea. Thus, due to the northern and southern rivers, the surface of the country remains green. Annually, 1, 86,900 crore cubic metre (cubic km) water flows through the rivers of India.

However, due to topographical and other reasons, out of the 1, 86,900 crore cubic metre, only 69,000 crore cubic metre (Cubic Kms) water can be used. Prior to First Five-Year Plan (1950-51), only 95 lakh hectare water of the rivers of India was utilized, which was 16 per cent of water flowing in rivers (5.6%). Water of all the three rivers towards the east of Indus River, namely Sutlej, Ravi and Beas, is available for use in India as per Indus Water Treaty of 1960. Work regarding use of waters of Damodar, Mahanadi and Tapti rivers has also sufficiently moved ahead.

Drainage pattern in India is decided on the basis of geological structure, nature of rocks, nature of land morphology, climatic unevenness. Drainage system affects natural landscape of the country and economic activities of man. There are natural differences in land morphology.

1. Perennial rivers of the north:

Indus River:

This river, which is 5,182 metres higher than sea level originates from Kailash glacier through the Mansarovar Lake in Tibet. It flows from its origin by encircling Leh city of Ladakh and joins Zanskar River after passing through the Karakoram Pass. On the right side, it is joined by the Kabul River.

The Shyok and the Gihgit are its important right bank tributaries. After crossing the Himalayas through a very deep gorge (5,180 metres), it turns to the south west and enters Pakistan. The total length of Indus River is 3,880 kms. Its flow route in India is 1,134 kms and 1, 17,884 sq kms area of India is benefited by it. After flowing through India and Pakistan, the Indus River falls in the Arabian Sea.


Sutlej River originates from Rakas Taal (4,630 metres) near the Mansarovar Lake located on the southern slope of the Kailash mountain range. The Darma Pass is also located here. Sutlej is the main accompanying river of Indus. It flows north-west wards and enters Himachal Pradesh at the Shipki Pass.

The height of Rakas Taal (Lake) is 4,630 metres above sea level. Its length in India is 1,050 kms and catchment area is 2, 40,000 sq. kms. This river is important due to Bhakra and Nangal dams constructed over it. The Sanskrit name of this river is ‘Shatdru’ or ‘Shatudri’.


Chenab is the longest river accompanying Indus River. Its origin is the Bara Lacha Pass near Taandi located at Lahul in Himachal Pradesh and is formed by the joining of Chandra and Bhaga tributaries. Height of Bara Lacha pass is 4,480 metres above sea level. The length of Chenab River in India is 1,180 kms and its catchment area is 26,755 sq. kms. Its name in Sanskrit is ‘Askani’ or ‘Chandrabhaga’. Near Kishtwar, it cuts a deep george in the Pir Panjal Range from here it turns southwards and flows in this direction for a short distance.


This river is also a companion river of Indus. Its origin is near the Rohtang Pass Bangaleh basin located between Pir Panjal and Dhauladhar Ranges. Ravi is a small river of Punjab and it is also known as river of Lahore. Bangaleh basin is 4,570 metres above the sea level. The length of Ravi River in India is 725 kms and its drainage area is 5,957 sq. kms. Its Sanskrit name is ‘Parusni’ or ‘Iraavati’.


Beas is other companion river of Indus. Its origin place is Pir Panjal which is 4,062 metres above the sea level. The length of Ravi River in India is 470 kms and its catchment area is 25,900 sq kms. Its Sanskrit name is ‘Vipasha’ or ‘Argikiya’.


This is the smallest companion river of Indus in India. Its origin is Verinaag water source located in Jammu and Kashmir. Jhelum is an important river of Kashmir. Its total length is 425 kms, out of which 40 kms is in India. Its catchment area in India is 28,490 sq kms. Its Sanskrit name of Jhelum is ‘Vitasta’.

Zanskar and Shyok are other companion rivers of Indus. Zanskar range are the origin of Zanskar River, which meets Indus near Leh. Shyok River originates from Karakoram and it meets Indus River near Kiris. Apart from these rivers, Dras is another a companion river of Indus and its origin lies between ‘Jojeela pass’ and ‘Devsai’.

Saraswati River originates from Shivalik Ranges of Sirmaur on the borders of Ambala district and enters Adhbadri. It disappears between Bhavnipur and Balchhapaar but again appears near Karnaal. Ghaghar River (originating from Shivalik Ranges) in Rasula (Near Patiala). Saraswati is also called ‘Haakda’ or ‘Sutaar’. In Vedic literature, Saraswati River has been described as an even more important liver than Indus and Ganges.

The Ganges:

The Ganges is the most important river system of India and covers more than half the area of India. The main river of this system is Ganges. From the left side, the rivers Ramganga, Gomti, Ghaghra, Tapti, Gandak and Koshi join the Ganges, whereas from the right side, Yamuna, Chambal, Sindh, Betwa, Tons and Son rivers join it.

The Ganges originates from Gangotri in Uttar Kashi district. The height of Gangotri is 7,016 metres above the sea level. In the beginning, there are two branches of the Ganges namely – Bhagirathi and Alaknanda. Bhagirathi is considered as the main branch.

The confluence of Bhagirathi and Alaknanda takes place at Dev Prayag, while the confluence of Mandakini and Alaknanda takes place at Rudra Prayag. The confluence of Alaknanda and Pindar takes place at Kama Prayag and the confluence of Alaknanda and Dhauli takes place at Vishnu Prayag. After Haridwar, the Ganges enters the plain area. After the confluence of Alaknanda and Bhagirathi at Dev Prayag its name changes into Ganges. When the river Ganges crosses Himalayas, it forms a 4,870 metres deep gorge. The length of river Ganges is 2,510 kms and its catchment area is 9, 51,600 sq kms.


This is the only river which descends from Himalayas and joins the Ganges. The origin of this river is Jamnotri Glacier located on the Bandarpoonchh Peak in the Kumayun area. The height of Jamnotri Glacier is 6,315 metres above the sea level. After crossing 152 kms in the mountainous track this river enters the plain area from Kalesar. At Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh) it joins river Ganges. The length of Yamuna river between Yamnotri and Allahabad is 1384 kms and its catchment area is 3, 59,000 sq kms. Chambal, Sindh, Betwa and Ken are Companion Rivers of Yamuna.


This is an important companion river of the Ganges. Its origin is the Amarkantak Mountains. Amarkantak is located at the height of 600 metres above the sea level. Son River forms many water­falls on its route. After travelling 780 kms from Amarkantak, it merges into the Ganges in Ramnagar near Patna. The catchment area of this river is 71,900 sq. kms.


This is the main companion river joining Ganges from the left side. Ramganga originates from Nainital district in Uttaranchal. The height of its place of origin is 3,110 metres above the sea level. After crossing 144 kms in the hilly region it forms a deep valley in Shivalik ranges and thereafter enters plain areas near Kalagarh in district Bijnaur. At Allahabad (Uttar Pradesh) it merges into the river Ganges.


This is an important companion river of Ganges meeting from the left side. It originates from Silam Himani in Kumayun Himalaya. In the beginning, this river was known by the name of Sharda or Kali. After flowing through Pilibhit, Kheeri, Bahraich, Sitapur, Gonda, Faizabad, Basti, Gorakhpur, Azamgarh and Ballia, it merges in river Ganges in District Chhapra of Bihar. The length of Ghaghra river is 1,080 kms and its catchment area is 1, 27,500 sq kms. More than half of its area falls in Nepal.

Available Water Resources in Important River Basins of India


Gandak river originates at the height of 7,600 metres on I lie Nepal-China border and joins river Ganga on its left side as an important companion river. Gandak River enters near Champaran district of Bihar. After flowing through Bihar and Uttar Pradesh it merges into Ganga near Sonpur in district Patna. Kali Gandak, Budhi Gandak and Trishuli Gandak are its companion rivers. The length of Gandak River is 425 kms and its catchment is 45,800 sq. kms, out of which 9,540 sq. kms area lies inside Nepal.


This river originates from Gomat Tal at the height of 200 metres in district Pilibhit. After flowing through Pihbhit, Kheeri, Sitapur, Lucknow, Barabanki, Sultanpur, Jaunpur, Gazipur, it merges into river Ganges at Gazipur. Kalyani, Reth, Kundanala, Bednala, Chunha, Mangar, Manjuhi, Sai, Peeli, Basuhi, Barna, etc. are its companion rivers.


It is one of the main rivers meeting Ganges on its left side. Originates in the north of Gosainath at the height of 6770 metres, in its begining, it is known as ‘Aruna’ river. It flows in seven tributaries namely, Milamchi, Bhotiya, Koshi, Tambakoshi, Likhu, Doodh Koshi, Aruna and Tamboor. Its total length is 730 kms and drainage area is 86,900 sq kms. It is also called ‘Sorrow of Bihar’.


Chambal River is the sub-companion of the Ganges, since it is the companion river of Yamuna. It originates from Janapav Hills in Madhya Pradesh at the height of 600 metres. After passing through Kota, Jhalawar (Rajasthan), Bhind, Morena (Madhya Pradesh), Agra and Itawa (Utar Pradesh) for 965 kms, it merges into river Yamuna near Itawa.


This river originates from Chhota Nagpur Plateau of Palamu district in Jharkhand. Garhi, Konar, Jamuniya and Barakar are its companion rivers. After merging in the Barakar it takes a giant shape. It then travels 543 kms to merges into river Hoogly. The catchment area of river Damodar is 22,000 sq kms. It is called ‘Sorrow of Bengal’.


This river originates from the south of Goharganj in the south of Raisen district of Madhya Pradesh. After flowing through Guna, Shivpuri, Jhansi and Hameerpur districts it merges into river Yamuna near Hameerpur.


Tons originate from Tamasha Kund water body located in Kaimur hills. This river merges into Ganga near Sirsa in the south east of Allahabad. Tons river forms the 114 metre high famous waterfall ‘Bihar’ in its flow route.

After merging of rivers from the south west side into the Ganga it forms a superimposed water flow image. Due to continuous soil erosion, old rocks having slope against the direction of water flow have come out but these rivers continue to flow on their decided path.

Brahmaputra River System:

From the point of view of quantity of water, Brahmaputra River is the biggest among all the rivers flowing in India, but from the angle of flow area it is not the biggest one. It originates from the eastern slope of Kailash Mountain in the plateau of Tibet at a height of 5,150 metres.

Its flow area is in Tibet, Bangladesh and India. It flows in the eastern direction parallel to the Himalayas up to Namchabarva Peak which is known as ‘Psang Po’. After Namchabarva Peak it flows towards south and the south-west. In India, this place is known as ‘Siang’ and ‘Dihang’.

After crossing Sadiya, it is called Brahmaputra. Suvanshiri, Dhanshiri, Maanas, Sankosh, Raidak, Tista, Diwang, Lohit, Deeshu, Kopili etc. are its companion rivers. The total length of Brahmaputra River is 2,580 kms but its length in India is only 1,346 kms. The total catchment area of this river is more than 5, 80,000 sq kms out of which 3, 40,000 sq kms lies in India. It is called Jamuna in Bangladesh.

2. South Indian River Systems:

There is a basic difference between northern and southern river systems – The Rivers of northern India are perennial whereas, in south India rivers do not flow all the 12 months. During the rainy season water remains in the rivers of the south but during summer as well as winters, there is scarcity of water. Rivers of southern India mostly originate from insular plateaus. Some flow towards the east and others flow towards the west. Rivers flowing towards the east fall in Bay of Bengal.

The main rivers among them are as under:


This river originates from Sihawa in the south of Amarkantak. In the beginning, it flows in the north-eastern direction. After confluence with Sevnath it diverts towards the east and there­after it flows towards the south-eastern direction. Near Sambhalpur, it takes a giant shape and before merging in Bay of Bengal near Cuttack many companion rivers also join it. The length of river Mahanadi IS 885 kms and catchment area is 1,32,000 sq. kms, out of which 53 per cent lies in Madhya Pradesh and 46 per cent in Orissa state.


Godawari River is the biggest among insular rivers and is the second biggest river of India. This river originates from a place named Triyambak located at a height of 1,067 metres in the east of Sahyadri range in district Nasik of Maharashtra. Pranahita, Indravati, Shabri, Manjra, Penganga, Wardha, Venganga, Taal, Mula, and Pavra are its companion rivers.

After Dhavleshwaram, Godavari River bifurcates into two branches – the eastern branch is called Gautami Godavari and western branch is called Vashishta Godavari. In the middle, there flows another river called Vaishnav Godavari. Gautami Godavari falls into the Bay of Bengal at place called ‘Yenam’, Vashishta Godavari at place called ‘Narsapur’ and Vaishnav Godavari at the place called ‘Nagra’. The total length of river Godavari is 1465 kms whereas, its catchment area is 1, 13,839 sq kms.


This river is the second largest insular river flowing in the east India. It originates from Mahabaleshwar at the height of 1,327 metres in the Western Ghat of Maharashtra. There are 10 companion rivers of Krishna. Among them Koyna, Malprabha, Ghatprabha, Musi, Panchganga and Doodhganga are important. Bheema meets Krishna before it leaves Maharashtra and enters Andhra Pradesh. Near Kurnool in Andhra Pradesh River Tungabhadra joins it and in the south of Hyderabad river Musi joins it.

Near Raichur, Krishna River comes down from the hills of Western Ghat and after traveling for 5 kms, it steps down 120 metres. About 65 kms after Vijayawada, Krishna divides into two parts. The southern part further sub-divides it in different sources and finally near Masulipattam it merges into the sea. The length of this river is 1,400 kms and catchment area is 2, 59,000 sq. kms.


Besides being a companion river of Krishna, it is also an important river system. As a separate river, Tungabhadra has six companion rivers (3 big and 3 small). Tungabhadra is formed by the meeting of ‘Tunga’ and ‘Bhadra’. Both originate from ‘Gangamool’ Peak of Western Ghat located at the height of 1,200 metres in district Chikmangloor of Karnataka.

Tunga flows through Shringeri in the northwest; after passing through Teertballi it joins Bhadra in deep valleys of broken hill ranges at Kudli. Kumudawati, Ouk and Wardha are important companion rivers of Tungabhadra. As a separate river Tungabhadra flows for 645 kms and its catchment area is 71,417 sq. kms.


This river is also a part of river Krishna as well as an important independent river. It flows in south Maharashtra and Andhra Pradesh. This river forms a delta below Vijayawada. Its catchment area is 76,614 sq kms.


Its origin is the plateau of Chhota Nagpur located in south-west of Ranchi in Bihar. Normally, this river flows towards the northern direction. It flows through Singhbhum Jharkhand), Mayurbhanj (Orissa) and Midnapore (West Bengal).

The length of Subarnarekha River is 395 kms and catchment area is 36,300 sq. kms.


This river is born at Koyal and meets Shekh River near Gangpur. It flows in the districts of Bonai, Talchar and Balasor. Before merging into the Bay of Bengal, the river Vaitarni also joins it. The length of Brahmani River is 705 kms and its catchment area is 36,500 sq. kms.


It is an important companion river of Brahmani. Its origin is from Kewanjhar plateau of Orissa. Length of Vaitarni River is 333 kms and its catchment area in Eastern Ghat is 19,500 sq. kms.


The origin of this river is Nandi Durg hill located in district Kolar of Karnataka. This river has two branches. The 560 kms long northern Penner flows through Caddapa, Anantpur and Nellore districts and falls into Bay of Bengal near the south of the city of Nellore. The 620 kms long southern Penner flows through Bangalore district. After flowing through Salem and South Arcot of Tamil Nadu it merges into the Bay of Bengal near Cuddalore. Chitravati and Papavati are its main companion rivers.

Kaveri (Cauvery):

The origin of Kaveri River is Brahmagiri Hill of Sahyadri range near Markara district in Coorg of Karnataka. Height of Brahmagiri is 1,341 metres above the sea level. Its important companion rivers are Lakshman Teerth, Kambani, Hemwati, Swarnavati, Lok Pavani, Simsha, Bhavani, Noyal, Amravati, Kanka and Gaajoti.

It is a very lean river in Mysore. Before entering Tamil Nadu it is called as ‘Meka Datoo’Aadu Thandam Kaveri. It divides into two branches, northern and southern near Shrirangam. The old port of Kaveri Pattanam was at the mouth of the river. Kaveri River forms a big delta before falling into the sea. About 55 per cent portion of this catchment lies in Tamil Nadu, 41 per cent in Karnataka and 3 per cent in Kerala. The length of river Kaveri is 805 kms and its catchment is 80,290 sq kms. During the flow of Kaveri, two waterfalls are formed namely – Shiv Samundram and Hokenangal. Kaveri is called ‘Ganges of south India’.


This river originates from a high plateau of Western Ghat. This river falls from a height of 253 metres amidst four hills named Raja, Rorar, Rocket and Rani. This river is world famous because of ‘Jog Waterfall’ or ‘Garsopa Waterfall’


This river originates from Godigai Hill at a height of 1,838 metres in the Western Ghat. One of the main features of this river is that its origin as well as end is in the same district of Tirunelvelh. The total length of Tamraparni River is 120 kms including 24 kms on the slope of hills. This river also forms a 90 metres high waterfall in Kalyan pilgrim centre. Korkai – the capital of old Pandu regime – had submerged 8 kms down in Tamraparni river. It merges in the Gulf of Mannar.


Periyar is the main river flowing in Kerala in South India. Its origin is in the Shivgiri hill in the Western Ghat. It joins with river Sameer Periyar Vagai of Madurai. The total length of this river is 225 kms. It merges into the Arabian Sea near Cochin.

In Kerala, another river named Pampa is also famous. It origi­nates from the hills of Kollam district. Its total length is 144 kms and falls into the Arabian Sea. This river is also famous for boat races on the occasion of ‘Onam festival’.


The origin of this river is in the Rain valley of Cardmom Hills of the Western Ghat. After flowing for 260 kms it merges into Palk Strait.

Most of the rivers flowing towards the west do not form delta but they form estuary. The description of these rivers is as under:


Narmada is the biggest river among the peninsular rivers flowing towards the east. The origin of this river is at a height of 1,057 metres from Amarkantak mountain of Maikal category in Madhya Pradesh. Geographically, it is a South Indian River but it is considered as the dividing line between North India and South India.

At Kapildhara, it falls from a height of 25 metres. It forms the ‘Dhunadhar Waterfall’ on the marble rocks near Jabalpur. It covers a distance of 320 kms between Vindhya and Satpura valleys. Banjar River is main companion of Narmada and it meets at Mandhata. Sher and Shakkar rivers join the Narmada River at Narsinghpur. Tava and Ganwal join it at Hoshangabad near Chhoti and Khandwa. In the north, only one river Hiran joins at Jabalpur.

Right from the mouth to 88 kms distance of Narmada River, one can find the tidal effect of sea. After flowing through the rift valley it forms an estuary in Arabian Sea. It then travels for 1312 kms before the falling in the Gulf of Cambay near Bharauch in Gujarat. The catchment area of this river is 93,180 sq kms. This river has been called as ‘Reva’ in Mahabharata. Its biggest companion river is Orsan, which is 300 kms long.


This river is also called Tapi River. It originates from Multai (at the height of 792 metres above the sea level) in district Betul from Satpura hills. Its companion rivers are Lavda, Patki, Gajjal, Bodak, Ambhora, Khursi, Khandu, Kapra, Sipra, Uttauli, Mona, Khekri, Purna, Bhokar, Suki, Maar, Harki, Manki, Guli, Arunavati, Gomai, Nadhur, Gurna, Bori, Panjhra, Amravati etc. This river flows through Berar and before entering Khandesh, it is joined by river Purna. After forming an estuary near Surat this river falls into Gulf of Khambhat. Length of Tapti River is 724 kms and its catchment area is 64,750 sq kms.


The origin of the river is from Anasagar (Naag Parvat) of district Ajmer located in south-west of Aravah. Sarsuti (originating from Pushkar lake of Ajmer) is its main companion river. Luni river is 300 kms long and its catchment area is 34,866.40 sq kms.


This river’s origin is from Jaisamand lake of Udaipur district in Rajasthan. Savar and Hathmati coming from Idar and Mahikanth are its companion rivers. This river merges into the Gulf of Khambat.


Mahi originates from district Betul in Madhya Pradesh. After flowing through Dhar, Ratlam and Gujarat, it merges into the Gulf of Khambat. This river is 560 kms long.

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