GUWAHATI, June 23 - The British colonial power viewed the Brahmaputra as a potential river route. The strategic importance of the river was also in the hindsight of the colonial rulers. It engaged its Army to study the river�s potential in these respects. The British General Staff of India prepared a report on the river in the eventful year of 1913. It was published in another eventful year of 1914. This report is called, the �Military Report on the Brahmaputra River System.�
It needs mention here that 1913 was the year when the second Balkan war led to the prelude for a bigger war and on July 28, 1914, Austria-Hungary declared war on Serbia and this marked the beginning of the First World War.
The �Military Report on the Brahmaputra River System� deals with the Brahmaputra system within the British territory, together with the river system which is known as the Padma (Ganga) and Meghna (after the Brahmaputra and the Ganga met together), respectively below Goalundo.
However, the phenomenon of flood is absent in the report, even as, on some occasions, it refers to the oscillating nature of the river.
The report has stated that the river was of the oscillating nature, �Between the main banks there (near Dibrugarh) is a wide strath, in which the river oscillates from side to side, throwing out here and there divergent channels which after a time rejoin the parent stream.�
Besides, it has stated, �The waters of the river are heavily laden with suspended matter (in its upper stretch), and the smallest obstruction in the current is liable to give rise to a (sic) almond-shaped sandbank. The next flood may wash this bank away or may only increase its size by fresh deposits of sand and the �chars� or islands, thus formed, soon become covered with dense growth of reeds.�
Further, it has maintained that in its upper reaches, the river was always navigable by country boats between Sanpura, about 16 miles by road from Sadiya, and Dibrugarh. During the rainy season, it is navigable by feeder steamers as far as Sadiya. The small steamers were used �occasionally when required for the passage of troops or stores.� However, it maintains that the breadth of the navigable channel was from 20 to 50 yards in this stretch.
In the 206-mile-long stretch between Dibrugarh and Tezpur, �Owing to changes in the current and the extreme width of the river bed, the main channel does not remain the same, but changes vary considerably from year to year. These constant changes in the course of the main channel do not, however, affect its navigability.
�Throughout the year the largest class of river steamers can proceed up and down the river, but the changes in the current frequently cause sandbanks to be formed in the old channels. During the cold weather, when the water is low, these sandbanks often cause steamers to run aground, and delays of 25 hours or more may take place before they can be towed off and proceed on their way along the freshly-found channel,� states the report.
In the 236-mile-long stretch between Tezpur and Dhubri, �the Brahmaputra displays in a pronounced degree the special characteristics by which it is distinguished in Assam. It oscillates from side to side in the sandy strath or valley through which it makes its way, and, except in a few places where rocks and hills give prominence to the channel, seldom follows the same course for two years in succession."
�At Pandu near Gauhati, the river is confined by rocks and hills to a comparatively narrow channel, but even here the breadth (sic) of the telegraph wire across the river measured from post to post is 1.45 miles,� the report states.
It further states, �The main channel of the river (in this stretch) is navigable by steamers at all time of the year, but the changes that constantly and even daily take place are of such a nature that the river is often deflected entirely from one bank over to the other. As a result, landing places or ghats are often entirely silted up and unapproachable even by country boats.�
It also provides a thorough account of the ferry, feeder ferry services etc., running in the above stretches of the river, besides the details of its tributaries and the chief towns and villages situated by it.