Governance of the Brahmaputra River System

Updated: Oct 5, 2020

A pivotal role for Interdisciplinary Knowledge


The Brahmaputra is a very important river of Asia, connecting the two largest populated countries of the world, China and India. The river also drains the whole of Bhutan and large parts of western Bangladesh.The name Brahmaputra is identified with the combined flow of three Himalayan tributaries which meet near the town of Sadiya in the Assam state of India. These tributaries are Lohit, Dibang and Siang. The longest of these tributaries is Siang, which is known as Yarlung Tsangpo in upstream Tibet (see map). The origin of Yarlung Tsangpo is at 5150 m the Angsi glacier near Mt. Kailash in western Tibet (China) and from there it flows almost eastwards for about 1700 km. Hence, the same point near Mt. Kailash is also considered in geography as the origin of the Brahmaputra. Yarlung Tsangpo takes a sharp U-turn around the Himalayan peak of Namchi Barwa (7782 m), and then it flows south-westwards. In this course, it enters India near the town of Tuting.

The Brahmaputra flows westwards in Assam and takes a southward turn as it enters Bangladesh downstream of the town of Dhubri. The length of Brahmaputra is 760 km and in Bangladesh the river gets the name Jamuna, of which the length is 337 km. After the river enters Bangladesh, at the gauging station of Bahadurabad, the annual flow of Jamuna is 610 BCM and the annual suspended sediment load is estimated at 710 MT. At the end of its southward journey, Jamuna meets the Ganges near Gualondo, to form the Padma (Figure 1).

Figure 1: The Brahmaputra Sub-basin with the spatial distribution of mean annual rainfall. (Source: Author’s own)

The area covered by the Brahmaputra sub-basin is 580,000 sq km, of which 50.5% is in China, 33.6% is in India, 8.1% is in Bangladesh and 7.8% is in Bhutan. Hydrologically, the Brahmaputra river system is part of the larger Ganges-Brahmaputra-Meghna basin, of which the combined flow reaches the Bay of Bengal with the name Lower Meghna, south of the Bangladesh town of Chandpur. From that viewpoint, several analysts have described this river system as the Brahmaputra sub-basin. The Brahmaputra is joined by many tributaries, draining the rain-rich south aspect of the Himalaya. Important among such tributaries range from Subansiri and ends with Tista. Among these are all rivers like Manas and Sankosh, emerging from Bhutan