The Drainage System of India

The Drainage System

  • The flow of water through well-defined channels is known as 'drainage' and the network of such channels is called a 'drainage system'. The drainage pattern of an area is the outcome of the geological time-period, nature and structure of rocks, topography, slope, amount of water flowing and the periodicity of the flow.

Important Drainage Patterns

  1. The drainage pattern resembling the branches of a tree is known as "dendritic" the examples of which are the rivers of northern plain.
  2. When the rivers originate from a hill and flow in all directions, the drainage pattern is known as 'radial'. The rivers originating from the Amarkantak range present a good example of it.
  3. When the primary tributaries of rivers flow parallel to each other and secondary tributaries join them at right angles, the pattern is known as 'trellis'.
  4. When the rivers discharge their waters from all directions in a lake or depression, the pattern is known as 'centripetal'.
  • Indian drainage system may be divided on various bases. On the basis of discharge of water (orientations to the sea), it may be grouped into: 1. the Arabian Sea drainage; and 2. the Bay of Bengal drainage.
  • Nearly 77 % of the drainage area consisting of the Ganga, the Brahmaputra, the Mahanadi, the Krishna, etc. is oriented towards the Bay of Bengal while 23 % comprising the Indus, the Narmada, the Tapi, the Mahi and the Periyar systems discharge their waters in the Arabian Sea

The Himalayan Drainage

  • The Himalayan drainage system mainly includes the Ganga, the Indus and the Brahmaputra river basins. Since these are fed both by melting of snow and precipitation, rivers of this system are perennial.
  • River Kosi, also known as the 'sorrow of Bihar', has been notorious for frequently changing its course. The Kosi brings huge quantity of sediments from its upper reaches and deposits it in the plains. The course gets blocked, and consequently, the river changes its course.

The River Systems of the Himalayan Drainage

The Indus System

  • It is one of the largest river basins of the world, covering an area of 11,65,000 sq. km (in India it is 321,289 sq. km and a total length of 2,880 km (in India 1,114 km).
  • The Indus also known as the Sindhu, is the westernmost of the Himalayan rivers in India. It originates from a glacier near Bokhar Chu (31°15’ N latitude and 81°40' E longitude) in the Tibetan region at an altitude of 4,164 m in the Kailash Mountain range. In Tibet, it is known as 'Singi Khamban; or Lion's mouth.
  • It enters into Pakistan near Chilas in the Dardistan region. Find out the area known as Dardistan.
  • The Indus receives a number of Himalayan tributaries such as the Shyok, the Gilgit, the Zaskar, the Hunza, the Nubra, the Shigar, the Gasting and the Dras. It finally emerges out of the hills near Attock where it receives the Kabul river on its right bank.
  • The other important tributaries joining the right bank of the Indus are the Khurram, the Tochi, the Gomal, the Viboa and the Sangar.
  • They all originate in the Sulaiman ranges. The river flows southward and receives 'Panjnad' a little above Mithankot. The Panjnad is the name given to the five rivers of Punjab, namely the Satluj, the Beas, the Ravi, the Chenab and the Jhelum. It finally discharges into the Arabian Sea, east of Karachi.
  • The Indus flows in India through Ladakh.
  • The Jhelum, an important tributary of the Indus, rises from a spring at Verinag situated at the foot of the Pir Panjal in the south-eastern part of the valley of Kashmir. It flows through Srinagar and the Wular lake before entering Pakistan through a deep narrow gorge. It joins the Chenab near Jhang in Pakistan.
  • The Chenab is the largest tributary of the Indus. It is formed by two streams, the Chandra and the Bhaga which join at Tandi near Keylong in Himachal Pradesh Hence, it is also known as Chandrabhaga. The river flows for 1,180 km before entering into Pakistan.
  • The Ravi is another important tributary of the Indus. It rises west of the Rohtang pass in the Kullu hills of Himachal Pradesh and flows through the Chamba valley of the state. Before entering Pakistan and joining the Chenab near Sarai Sidhu, it drains the area lying between the southeastern part of the Pir Panjal and the Dhauladhar ranges.
  • The Beas is another important tributary of the Indus, originating from the Beas Kund near the Rohtang Pass at an elevation of 4,000 m above the mean sea level. The river flows through the Kullu valley and forms gorges at Kati and Largi in the Dhaoladhar range. It enters the Punjab plains where it meets the Satluj near Harike.
  • The Satluj originates in the Rakas lake near Mansarovar at an altitude of 4,555 m in Tibet where it is known as Langchen Khambab. It flows almost parallel to the Indus for about400 km before entering India, and comes out of a gorge at Rupar. It passes through the Shipki La on the Himalayan ranges and enters the Punjab plains. It is an antecedent river. It is a very important tributary as it feeds the canal system of the Bhakra Nangal project.

The Ganga System

  • The Ganga is the most important river of India both from the point of view of its basin and cultural significance. It rises in the Gangotri glacier near Gaumukh (3,900 m) in the Uttarkashi district of Uttarakhand. Here, it is known as the Bhagirathi. It cuts through the Central and the Lesser Himalayas in narrow gorges.

The Ganga Basin

The Ganga basin is the most populous in the world, with more than 400 million people in the country alone. It accounts for 28% of India's water resources, holds about 26% of landmass and hosts 43% of the population. The main stem to the river traverses five major states namely Uttarakhand, U.P., Bihar, Jharkhand and West Bengal and travels 2,525 kms.

[Source: India 2022]

  • At Devprayag, the Bhagirathi meets the Alaknanda; hereafter, it is known as the Ganga.
  • The Alaknanda has its source in the Satopanth glacier above Badrinath. The Alaknanda consists of the Dhauli and the Vishnu Ganga which meet at Joshimath or Vishnu Prayag.
  • The other tributaries of Alaknanda such as the Pindar join it at Kama Prayag while Mandakini or Kali Ganga meets it at Rudra Prayag.
  • The Ganga enters the plains at Haridwar. From here, it flows first to the south, then to the south-east and east before splitting into two distributaries, namely the Bhagirathi and the Hugli. The river has a length of 2,525 km. It is shared by Uttarakhand (110 km) and Uttar Pradesh (1,450 km), Bihar (445 km) and West Bengal (520 km).
  • The Ganga basin covers about 8.6 lakh sq. km area in India alone. The Ganga river system is the largest in India having a number of perennial and non-perennial rivers originating in the Himalayas in the north and the Peninsula in the south, respectively.
  • The Son is its major right bank tributary. The important left bank tributaries are the Ramganga, the Gomati, the Ghaghara, the Gandak, the Kosi and the Mahananda. The river finally discharges itself into the Bay of Bengal near the Sagar Island.
  • The Yamuna, the western most and the longest tributary of the Ganga, has its source in the Yamunotri glacier on the western slopes of Banderpunch range (6,316 km). It joins the Ganga at Prayag (Allahabad). It is joined by the Chambal, the Sind, the Betwa and the Ken on its right bank which originates from the Peninsular plateau while the Hindan, the Rind, the Sengar, the Varuna, etc. join it on its left bank.
  • The Chambal rises near Mhow in the Malwa plateau of Madhya Pradesh and flows northwards through a gorge upwards of Kota in Rajasthan, where the Gandhisagar dam has been constructed. From Kota, it traverses down to Bundi, Sawai Madhopur and Dholpur, and finally joins the Yamuna.
  • The Chambal is famous for its badland topography called the Chambal ravines.
  • The Gandak comprises two streams, namely Kaligandak and Trishulganga. It rises in the Nepal Himalayas between the Dhaulagiri and Mount Everest and drains the central part of Nepal. It enters the Ganga plain in Champaran district of Bihar and joins the Ganga at Sonpur near Patna.
  • The Ghaghara originates in the glaciers of Mapcha-chungo. After collecting the waters of its tributaries -Tila, Seti and Beri, it comes out of the mountain, cutting a deep gorge at Shishapani.
  • The river Sarda (Kali or Kali Ganga) joins it in the plain before it finally meets the Ganga at Chhapra. The Kosi is an antecedent river with its source to the north of Mount Everest in Tibet, where its main stream Arun rises. After crossing the Central Himalayas in Nepal, it is joined by the Son Kosi from the West and the Tamur Kosi from the east. It forms Sapt Kosi after uniting with the river Arun.
  • The Ramganga is comparatively a small river rising in the Garhwal hills near Gairsain. It changes its course to the southwest direction after crossing the Shiwalik and enters into the plains of Uttar Pradesh near Najibabad. Finally, it joins the Ganga near Kannauj.
  • The Damodar occupies the eastern margins of the Chotanagpur Plateau where it flows through a rift valley and finally joins the Hugli. The Barakar is its main tributary.
  • Once known as the 'sorrow of Bengal', the Damodar has been now tamed by the Damodar Valley corporation, a multipurpose project.
  • The Sarda or Saryu River rises in the Milam glacier in the Nepal Himalayas where it is known as the Goriganga. Along the Indo-Nepal border, it is called Kali or Chauk, where it joins the Ghaghara.
  • The Mahananda is another important tributary of the Ganga rising in the Darjiling hills. It joins the Ganga as its last left bank tributary in West Bengal.
  • The Son is a large south bank tributary of the Ganga, originating in the Amarkantak plateau. After forming a series of waterfalls at the edge of the plateau, it reaches Arrah, west of Patna, to join the Ganga.

The Brahmaputra System

  • The Brahmaputra, one of the largest rivers of the world, has its origin in the Chemayungdung glacier of the Kailash range near the Mansarovar Lake. From here, it traverses eastward longitudinally for a distance of nearly 1,200 km in a dry and flat region of southern Tibet, where it is known as the Tsangpo, which means 'the purifier.'
  • The Rango Tsangpo is the major right bank tributary of this river in Tibet. It emerges as a turbulent and dynamic river after carving out a deep gorge in the Central Himalayas near Namcha Barwa (7,755 m). The river emerges from the foothills under the name of Siang or Dihang.
  • It enters India west of Sadiya town in Arunachal Pradesh. Flowing southwest, it receives its main left bank tributaries, viz., Dihang or Siang and Lohit; thereafter, it is known as the Brahmaputra.
  • The Subansiri which has its origin in Tibet is an antecedent river.
  • The Brahmaputra enters into Bangladesh near Dhubri and flows southward. In Bangladesh, the Teesta joins it on its right bank from where the river is known as the Jamuna. It finally merges with the river Padma, which falls in the Bay of Bengal.

Major Water Channels of India



8" Channel

Middle of Maldives and Minicoy

9“ Channel

Middle of Kavaratti and Minicoy

10° Channel

Middle of mini Andaman and Car Nicobar

Grand Channel

Middle of Sumatra (Indonesia) and Nicobar

Palk Strait

Middle of Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka

Duncan Pass

Middle of South Andaman and Mini Andaman

Coco Strait

Middle of Coco Island (Myanmar) and Northern Andaman

Gulf of Mannar

Middle of South Eastern Tamil Nadu and Sri Lanka

Laccadive/ Lakshadweep Sea

Middle of Lakshadweep and Malabar Coast

Note: Sethusamudram Project connects Gulf of Mannar and Palk Strait.

The Peninsular Drainage System

  • The Peninsular drainage system is older than the Himalayan one. This is evident from the broad, largely-graded shallow valleys, and the maturity of the rivers. The Western Ghats running close to the western coast act as the water divide between the major Peninsular rivers, discharging their water in the Bay of Bengal and as small rivulets joining the Arabian Sea.
  • Most of the major Peninsular rivers except Narmada and Tapi flow from west to east. The Chambal, the Sind, the Betwa, the Ken, the Son, originating in the northern part of the Peninsula belong to the Ganga river system.
  • The other major river systems of the Peninsular drainage are - the Mahanadi, the Godavari, the Krishna and the Kaveri.
  • Peninsular rivers are characterised by fixed course, absence of meanders and non-perennial flow of water. The Narmada and the Tapi which flow through the rift valley are, however, exceptions.

River Systems of the Peninsular Drainage

  • There are a large number of river systems in the Peninsular drainage.
  • The Mahanadi rises near Sihawa in Raipur district of Chhattisgarh and runs through Odisha to discharge its water into the Bay of Bengal. It is 851 km long and its catchment area spreads over 1.42 lakh sq. km. Some navigation is carried on in the lower course of this river. 53% of the drainage basin of this river lies in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, while 47% lies in Odisha.
  • The Godavari is the largest Peninsular river system. It is also called the Dakshin Ganga. It rises in the Nasik district of Maharashtra and discharges its water into the Bay of Bengal. Its tributaries run through the states of Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. It is 1,465 km long with a catchment area spreading over 3.13 lakh sq. km 49% of this, lies in Maharashtra, 20% in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh, and the rest in Andhra Pradesh.
  • The Penganga, the Indravati, the Pranhita, and the Manjra are its principal tributaries.
  • The Krishna is the second largest east-flowing Peninsular river which rises near Mahabaleshwar in Sahyadri. Its total length is 1,401 km. The Koyna, the Tungbhadra and the Bhima are its major tributaries. Of the total catchment area of the Krishna, 27% lies in Maharashtra, 44% in Karnataka and 29% in Andhra Pradesh and Telangana.
  • The Kaveri rises in Brahmagiri hills (1,341m) of Kogadu district in Karnataka. Its length is 800 km and it drains an area of 81,155 sq. km.
  • About 3% of the Kaveri basin falls in Kerala, 41% in Karnataka and 56 % in Tamil Nadu. Its important tributaries are the Kabini, the Bhavani and the Amravati.
  • The Narmada originates on the western flank of the Amarkantak plateau at a height of about 1,057 m. Flowing in a rift valley between the Satpura in the south and the Vindhyan range in the north, it forms a picturesque gorge in marble rocks and Dhuandhar waterfall near Jabalpur.
  • After flowing a distance of about 1,312 km, it meets the Arabian sea south of Bharuch, forming a broad 27 km long estuary. Its catchment area is about 98,796 sq. km. The Sardar Sarovar Project has been constructed on this river.
  • The Tapi is the other important westward flowing river It originates from Multai in the Betul district of Madhya Pradesh. It is 724 km long and drains an area of 65,145 sq. km. Nearly 79 % of its basin lies in Maharashtra, 15% in Madhya Pradesh and the remaining 6 % in Gujarat.
  • Luni is the largest river system of Rajasthan, west of Aravali. It originates near Pushkar in two branches, i.e. the Saraswati and the Sabarmati, which join with each other at Govindgarh. From here, the river comes out of Aravali and is known as Luni. It flows towards the west till Telwara and then takes a southwest direction to join the Rann of Kuchchh. The entire river system is ephemeral.

Smaller Rivers Flowing Towards the West

  • The rivers flowing towards the Arabian sea have short courses.
  • The Shetruniji is one such river which rises near Dalkahwa in Amreli district. The Bhadra originates near Aniali village in Rajkot district. The Dhadhar rises near Ghantar village in Panchmahal district. Sabarmati and Mahi are the two famous rivers of Gujarat.
  • The Vaitarna rises from the Trimbak hills in Nasik district at an elevation of 670 m. The Kalinadi rises from Belgaum district and falls in the Karwar Bay. The source of Bedti river lies in Hubli Dharwar and traverses a course of 161 km. The Sharavati is another important river in Karnataka flowing towards the west. The Sharavati originates in Shimoga district of Karnataka and drains a catchment area of 2,209 sq. km.
  • Goa has two important rivers one is Mandovi and the other is Juari.
  • Kerala has a narrow coastline. The longest river of Kerala, Bharathapuzha rises near Annamalai hills. It is also known as Ponnani. It drains an area of 5,397 sq. km.
  • The Periyar is the second largest river of Kerala. Its catchment area is 5,243 sq. km.
  • Another river of Kerala worth mentioning is the Pamba river which falls in the Vemobanad lake after traversing a course of 177 km.

Small Rivers Flowing Towards the East

  • There are a large number of rivers flowing towards the east along with their tributaries. There are small rivers which join the Bay of Bengal, though small, these are important in their own right. The Subamrekha, the Baitami, the Brahmani, the Vamsadhara, the Penner, the Palar and the Vaigai are important rivers. [Source: 'India : Physical Environment' (NCERT-Class XII)]

Water Resources and Their Utilization in India

  • India has 4% of water resources of the world, while it has to support 16% of the world population and 15% of livestock.
  • India receives mean annual precipitation of about 3,880 Billion Cubic Meter (BCM). The average annual water availability, after evaporation, is assessed at 1,999.20 BCM.
  • Due to geological and other factors, the utilisable, water available is limited to 1,122 BCM per annum, comprising of 690 BCM of surface water and 432 BCM of groundwater. Out of this, the water potential utilised is around 699 BCM, comprising 450 BCM of surface water and 249 BCM of groundwater.
  • Total requirement of the country for different uses for high demand scenario for the years 2025 and 2050 has been assessed as 843 BCM and 1,180 BCM respectively.     [Source: India 2021]
  • Water resources of India can be divided into two parts: 1. Surface Water Resources and 2. Underground Water Resources.

Sources of Irrigation in India

There are various sources of irrigation which are:


Wells & Tube wells

55.9% of total irrigation



31.4% of total irrigation


Multipurpose River Valley Projects

Project / River


Name of Power Houses

Bhakhra-Nangal Project On river Sutlej 518 m long, 226 m high

1. Irrigation,
2.Hydroelectricity generation,
3. Soil conservation

1. Bhakhra,
2. Ganguwal,
3. Nangal,

4. Kotla

Damodar Valley Project

On river Damodar, located in West Bengal and Jharkhand

1. Irrigation,
2. Generation of Hydro and Thermal power,
3. Navigation,
4. Flood control (Damodar has turned from a 'Valley of Sorrow' 'Valley of Plenty')

l. Maithon,
2. Tilaia,
3. Panchet Hill,
4. Bokaro,
5. Durgapur,
6. Chandrapura

Hirakud Project
On Mahanadi river in Odisha; 4800 m long.

1. Irrigation,
2. Production of Hydel power,
3. Navigation for over 480 km.

1. Hirakud,
2. Chiplima

Tungabhadra Project
At Malappuram on the river Tungabhadra, it is 2441 m long and 49.3 m high; in Telangana and Karnataka.

1. Irrigation,
2. Generation of Hydro electricity

1. At Malappuram,
2.  At Hampi,
3. On left side of Malappuram

Rihand Project On river Rihand

Hydroelectricity production.


  • The Kaleshwaram Lift Irrigation Project (KLIP) is the largest multi stage Lift irrigation protect in the world. This was inaugurated by Telangana CM Chandra-shekhar Rao on 21st June, 2019 at Bhoopalpally, Kale-shwaram, Telangana.

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