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India Coasts and Borders
Sources: The Library of Congress Country Studies; CIA World Factbook
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    India has 7,000 kilometers of seacoast and shares 14,000 kilometers of land frontier with six nations: Pakistan, China, Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh, and Burma. India claims a twelve-nautical-mile territorial sea and an exclusive economic zone of 200 nautical miles. The territorial seas total 314,400 square kilometers.

    In the mid-1990s, India had boundary disagreements with Pakistan, China, and Bangladesh; border distances are therefore approximations. The partition of India in 1947 established two India-Pakistan frontiers: one on the west and one on the east (East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971).

    Disputes over the state of Jammu and Kashmir led to hostilities between India and Pakistan in 1947. The January 1, 1949, cease-fire arranged by the United Nations (UN) divided control of Kashmir. India controls Jammu, the Vale of Kashmir, and the capital, Srinagar, while Pakistan controls the mountainous area to the northwest. Neither side accepts a divided Kashmir as a permanent solution. India regards as illegal the 1963 China-Pakistan border agreement, which ceded to China a portion of Pakistani-controlled Kashmir. The two sides also dispute the Siachen Glacier near the Karakoram Pass. Further India-Pakistan hostilities in the 1965 war were settled through the Soviet-brokered Tashkent Declaration.

    In 1968 an international tribunal settled the dispute over the Rann of Kutch, a region of salt flats that is submerged for six months of the year in the state of Gujarat. The following year, a new border was demarcated that recognized Pakistan's claim to about 10 percent of the area.

    In 1992 India completed fencing most of the 547-kilometer-long section of the boundary between the Indian state of Punjab and the Pakistani province of Punjab. This measure was undertaken because of the continuing unrest in the region caused by both ethnic and religious disputes among the local Indian population and infiltrators from both sides of the frontier. The more rugged terrain north of Punjab along the entire cease-fire line between India and Pakistan in Jammu and Kashmir continues to be subject to infiltration and local strife (see Political Issues, ch. 8; South Asia, ch. 9; Insurgent Movements and External Subversion, ch. 10).

    The 2,000-kilometer-long border with China has eastern, central, and western sections. In the western section, the border regions of Jammu and Kashmir have been the scene of conflicting claims since the nineteenth century. China has not accepted India's definitions of the boundary and has carried out defense and economic activities in parts of eastern Kashmir since the 1950s. In the 1960s, China finished construction of a motor road across Aksai Chin (a region under dispute between India and China), the main transportation route linking China's Xinjiang-Uygur Autonomous Region and Tibet.

    In the eastern section, the China-India boundary follows the McMahon Line laid down in 1914 by Sir Arthur Henry McMahon, the British plenipotentiary to a conference of Indian, British, and Chinese representatives at Simla (now known as Shimla, Himachal Pradesh). The Simla Convention, as the agreement is known, set the boundary between India and Tibet. Although the British and Tibetan representatives signed the agreement on July 3, 1914, the Chinese delegate declined to sign. The line agreed to by Britain and Tibet generally follows the crest of the eastern Himalayas from Bhutan to Burma. It serves as a legal boundary, although the Chinese have never formally accepted it. China continued to claim roughly the entire area of Arunachal Pradesh south of the McMahon Line in the early 1990s. In 1962 China and India fought a brief border war in this region, and China occupied certain areas south of the line for several months (see Nehru's Legacy, ch 1; The Experience of Wars, ch. 10). India and China took a major step toward resolving their border disputes in 1981 by opening negotiations on the issue. Agreements and talks held in 1993 and 1995 eased tensions along the India-China border (see China, ch. 9). Sikkim, which became an Indian state in 1975, forms the small central section of India's northern border and lies between Nepal and Bhutan.

    India's border with Bangladesh is essentially the same as it was before East Pakistan became Bangladesh in 1971. Some minor disputes continued to occur over the size and number of the numerous enclaves each country had on either side of the border. These enclaves were established during the period from 1661 to 1712 during fighting between the Mughal Empire and the principality of Cooch Behar. This complex pattern of enclaves was preserved by the British administration and passed on intact to India and Pakistan.

    The 1,300-kilometer frontier with Burma has been delimited but not completely demarcated. On March 10, 1967, the Indian and Burmese governments signed a bilateral treaty delimiting the boundary in detail. India also has a maritime boundary with Burma in the area of the northern Andaman Islands and Burma's Coco Islands in the Bay of Bengal. India's borders with Nepal and Bhutan have remained unchanged since the days of British rule. In 1977 India signed an accord with Indonesia demarcating the entire maritime boundary between the two countries. One year earlier, a similar accord was signed with the Maldives.


    The country's rivers are classified as Himalayan, peninsular, coastal, and inland-drainage basin rivers. Himalayan rivers are snow fed and maintain a high to medium rate of flow throughout the year. The heavy annual average rainfall levels in the Himalayan catchment areas further add to their rates of flow. During the monsoon months of June to September, the catchment areas are prone to flooding. The volume of the rain-fed peninsular rivers also increases. Coastal streams, especially in the west, are short and episodic. Rivers of the inland system, centered in western Rajasthan state, are few and frequently disappear in years of scant rainfall. The majority of the South Asia's major rivers flow through broad, shallow valleys and drain into the Bay of Bengal.

    The Ganga River basin, India's largest, includes approximately 25 percent of the nation's area; it is bounded by the Himalayas in the north and the Vindhya Range to the south. The Ganga has its source in the glaciers of the Greater Himalayas, which form the frontier between India and Tibet in northwestern Uttar Pradesh. Many Indians believe that the legendary source of the Ganga, and several other important Asian rivers, lies in the sacred Mapam Yumco Lake (known to the Indians as Manasarowar Lake) of western Tibet located approximately 75 kilometers northeast of the India-China-Nepal tripoint. In the northern part of the Ganga River basin, practically all of the tributaries of the Ganga are perennial streams. However, in the southern part, located in the states of Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, many of the tributaries are not perennial.

    The Brahmaputra has the greatest volume of water of all the rivers in India because of heavy annual rainfall levels in its catchment basin. At Dibrugarh the annual rainfall averages 2,800 millimeters, and at Shillong it averages 2,430 millimeters. Rising in Tibet, the Brahmaputra flows south into Arunachal Pradesh after breaking through the Great Himalayan Range and dropping rapidly in elevation. It continues to fall through gorges impassable by man in Arunachal Pradesh until finally entering the Assam Valley where it meanders westward on its way to joining the Ganga in Bangladesh.

    The Mahanadi, rising in the state of Madhya Pradesh, is an important river in the state of Orissa. In the upper drainage basin of the Mahanadi, which is centered on the Chhattisgarh Plain, periodic droughts contrast with the situation in the delta region where floods may damage the crops in what is known as the rice bowl of Orissa. Hirakud Dam, constructed in the middle reaches of the Mahanadi, has helped in alleviating these adverse effects by creating a reservoir.

    The source of the Godavari is northeast of Bombay (Mumbai in the local Marathi language) in the state of Maharashtra, and the river follows a southeasterly course for 1,400 kilometers to its mouth on the Andhra Pradesh coast. The Godavari River basin area is second in size only to the Ganga; its delta on the east coast is also one of the country's main rice-growing areas. It is known as the "Ganga of the South," but its discharge, despite the large catchment area, is moderate because of the medium levels of annual rainfall, for example, about 700 millimeters at Nasik and 1,000 millimeters at Nizamabad.

    The Krishna rises in the Western Ghats and flows east into the Bay of Bengal. It has a poor flow because of low levels of rainfall in its catchment area--660 millimeters annually at Pune. Despite its low discharge, the Krishna is the third longest river in India.

    The source of the Kaveri is in the state of Karnataka, and the river flows southeastward. The waters of the river have been a source of irrigation since antiquity; in the early 1990s, an estimated 95 percent of the Kaveri was diverted for agricultural use before emptying into the Bay of Bengal. The delta of the Kaveri is so mature that the main river has almost lost its link with the sea, as the Kollidam, the distributary of the Kaveri, bears most of the flow.

    The Narmada and the Tapti are the only major rivers that flow into the Arabian Sea. The Narmada rises in Madhya Pradesh and crosses the state, passing swiftly through a narrow valley between the Vindhya Range and spurs of the Satpura Range. It flows into the Gulf of Khambhat (or Cambay). The shorter Tapti follows a generally parallel course, between eighty kilometers and 160 kilometers to the south of the Narmada, flowing through the states of Maharashtra and Gujarat on its way into the Gulf of Khambhat.

    Harnessing the waters of the major rivers that flow from the Himalayas is an issue of great concern in Nepal, India, and Bangladesh. Issues of flood control, drought prevention, hydroelectric power generation, job creation, and environmental quality--but also traditional lifestyles and cultural continuities--are at stake as these countries grapple with the political realities, both domestic and international, of altering the flow of the Ganga and Brahmaputra. Although India, Nepal, and Bangladesh seek to alleviate problems through cooperation over Himalayan rivers, irrigation projects altering the flow of Punjab-area rivers are likely to continue to be an irritant between India and Pakistan--countries between which cooperation is less likely to occur--in the second half of the 1990s. Internally, large dam projects, such as one on the Narmada River, are also controversial (see Development Programs, ch. 7).

    Data as of September 1995

    NOTE: The information regarding India on this page is re-published from The Library of Congress Country Studies and the CIA World Factbook. No claims are made regarding the accuracy of India Coasts and Borders information contained here. All suggestions for corrections of any errors about India Coasts and Borders should be addressed to the Library of Congress and the CIA.

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Revised 10-Nov-04
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