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India - Physiography

India, with a geographical area of about 329 Million Hectares (M.ha), is a land of many mountains and rivers, some of them figuring amongst the mightiest rivers of the world. Physiographically, India may be divided into seven well defined regions. These are: the Northern Mountains comprising the mighty Himalayan ranges; the Great Plains traversed by the Indus, Ganga and Brahmaputra river systems; the Central Highlands, consisting of a wide belt of hills running east-west between the Great Plains and the deccan plateau; the Peninsular Plateaus; the East Coast, a belt of land of about 100-130 km wide, bordering the Bay of Bengal; the West Coast, a narrow belt of land of about 10-25 km wide, bordering the Arabian Sea; and the islands, comprising the coral islands of Lakshadweep in Arabian Sea and Andaman and Nicobar group of islands in the Bay of Bengal.


The great mountain mass of Himalayas in the North and the ocean in the South are the two major influences operating on the climate of India. The Himalaya poses an impenetrable barrier to the influence of cold winds from central Asia and gives the sub-continent the elements of tropical type of climate. The oceans are the source of moisture-laden winds, giving India the elements of the oceanic type of climate. India has a very great diversity and variety of climate and an even greater variety of weather conditions. The climate ranges from extremes of heat to extremes of cold; from extreme aridity and negligible rainfall to excessive humidity and torrential rainfall. The climatic condition influences to a great extent the water resources utilization in the country


Rainfall in India is dependent on the South-West and North-East monsoons, on shallow cyclonic depressions and disturbances and on violent local storms which form regions where cool humid winds from the sea meet hot dry winds from the land and occasionally reach cyclonic dimension. Most of the rainfall in India takes place under the influence of South West monsoon between June to September except in Tamil Nadu where it is under the influence of North-East monsoon during October and November. The average rainfall, i.e. total precipitation divided by the total land area, is about 1215 mm. However, there is considerable spatial variation in rainfall which ranges from less than 100 mm in the western Rajasthan to more than 2500 mm in North-Eastern areas.

Rivers of India

India is blessed with many rivers. Land slope determines the river to which the rain falling on an area will eventually flow. A river basin, also called catchment area of the river, is the area from which the rain will flow into that particular river. The shape and size of the river basin is determined by the topography. Following are the major river basins groups in India.

Indus system

This comprises the river Indus and its tributaries like the Jhelum, Chenab, Ravi, Beas and Sutlej. These originate in the North and generally flow in a West or South-West direction to eventually flow into Arabian Sea through Pakistan.

Ganga-Brahmaputra-Meghana system

The main river Ganga and its tributaries like the Yamuna, Sone, Gandak, Kosi and many others; similarly main rivers Brahmaputra, Meghna and their tributaries. All these eventually flow into Bay of Bengal, through Bangladesh. Some of the tributaries of these rivers are larger than other independent rivers. e.g. Yamuna, a tributary of Ganga, has a larger catchment area than the Tapi, a small peninsula river.

Rivers of Rajasthan and Gujrat

Mahi, Sabarmati, Luni etc. These are rivers of arid regions, they carry relatively little flow, some of them flow to Arabian Sea through Gujrat while some are land-locked and their flow is lost through percolation and evaporation in the vast arid regions.

East Flowing Peninsular Rivers

The important membes of this group are :Damodar, Mahanadi, Brhamanai, Baitrani, Subarnarekha, Krishna-Godavari and Kaveri. The all flow in to Bay of Bengal at various places along the Eastern coast of India.

West Flowing Peninsular Rivers

Narmada and Tapi. These originate in Central India and flow in a Western direction to meet Arabian Sea south of Gujrat.

Western Coast Rivers

A large number of rivers in the Western Coast - i.e. coastal Maharashtra and Karnatka, and entire Kerala. These rivers are small in length but carry a significant amount of water due to very high rainfall in western ghats. They drain only 3 % of the India’s land area but carry 11 % of India’s water resources.

Useful Links

River Basin maps of India
More details of rivers

Major River Basins Of The Country

Name of the River Origin Length (Km.) Catchment Area (Sq. Km.)
Indus (up to Border) Mansarovar (Tibet) 1114 + 321289 +
a) Ganga Gangotri (Uttar Kashi) 2525 + 861452 +
b) Brahmaputra Kailash Range (Tibet) 916 + 194413 +
c) Barak and other rivers flowing into Meghna     41723 +
Sabarmati Aravalli Hills (Rajasthan) 371 21674
Mahi Dhar (Madhya Pradesh) 583 34842
Narmada Amarkantak (Madhya Pradesh) 1312 98796
Tapi Betul  (Madhya Pradesh) 724 65145
Brahmani Ranchi  (Bihar) 799 39033
Mahanadi Nazri Town (Madhya Pradesh) 851 141589
Godavari Nasik (Maharashtra) 1465 312812
Krishna Mahabaleshwar (Maharashtra) 1401 258948
Pennar Kolar (Karnataka) 597 55213
Cauvery Coorg (Karnataka) 800 81155

On an average, India receives about 4000 Cubic Kilometers (1 Cubic Km is same as one billion cubic meters, abbreviated as bcm) of precipitation every year. Precipitation means rainfall and snowfall together. As explained above, this precipitation is not uniformly distributed over the entire land area and varies from less 100 mm in Rajasthan to more than 2500 in Assam. Of all the rain that falls on the land and mountains and forests, some evaporates back in to the atmosphere, some is percolates in the ground and some is used by the forests. The remaining that flows in to the rivers is less than 50% on the total precipitation. The total annual flow in the rivers is estimated as 1869 bcm.

Basinwise Surface Water Potential

Name of the River Basin Average flow bcm/year
Indus (up to Border) 73.31
a) Ganga 525.02
b) Brahmaputra Barak and others 585.6
Godavari 110.54
Krishna 78.12
Cauvery 21.36
Pennar 6.32
East Flowing Rivers Between Mahanadi and Pennar 22.52
East Flowing Rivers Between Pennar and Kanyakumari 16.46
Mahanadi 66.88
Brahmani and Baitarni 28.48
Subernarekha 12.37
Sabarmati 3.81
Mahi 11.02
West Flowing Rivers of Kutch, Sabarmati including Luni 15.1
Narmada 45.64
Tapi 14.88
West Flowing Rivers from Tapi to Tadri 87.41
West Flowing Rivers from Tadri to Kanyakumari 113.53
Area of Inland drainage in  Rajasthan desert Negligible
Minor River Basins Draining into Bangladesh and Myanmar 31
Total 3w

Groundwater also flows in the underground strata, though much slowly than the surface flow. At times the groundwater oozes out from the river banks and river bed into the river. At times water flowing in a river seeps back into underground formations. The relationship between surface water and ground water is dynamic and complex. Further, the groundwater flow is not determined by the surface topography and follows some features of the underground strata which can not be easily measured.

For all these reasons, estimation of groundwater potential, i.e. the amount that can be used in a year on a sustainable basis, is a difficult task. The basinwise groundwater potential has been estimated and is given in the table below.

Basinwise Ground Water Potential Of Country

Name of Basin Ground Water potential (bcm)
Brahmai with Baitarni 4.05
Brahmaputra 26.55
Cambai Composite 7.19
Cauvery 12.3
Ganga 170.99
Godavari 40.65
Indus 26.49
Krishna 26.41
Kutch and Saurashtra Composite 11.23
Tamil Nadu 18.22
Mahanadi 16.46
Meghna 8.52
Narmada 10.83
Northeast Composite 18.84
Pennar 4.93
Subarnrekha 1.82
Tapi 8.27
Western Ghat 17.69