India’s National Register of Large Dams: Shows how little we know about our dams

The Central Water Commission (CWC) of India’s Union Ministry of Water Resources periodically updates India’s National Register of Large Dams (NRLD), the latest edition seems to have been put up recently[i]. Significantly, this latest edition reports huge jump in number of large dams in India, compared to the previous editions from 2009 that SANDRP has been monitoring. The 2009 edition of NRLD had 5100 large dams and the editions from 2012 to 2016 had listed 5190 to 5170 large dams, but the 2017 edition suddenly reports that now India has 5701 large dams, a jump of over 510 from the editions in last five years. This shows that neither states had been reporting correct figures of number of large dams in India, nor was CWC bothered to collect correct basic information about large dams.

The number of under construction large dams also sees a huge jump from 312 in 2016 edition to 447 in 2017 edition. This shows that India has possibly the highest number of under construction big dams, compared to any other country in the world. And that the number of large dams under construction keeps growing. This has been the situation since the year 2000 when the World Commission on Dams report emphasised this.

CWC Rider The CWC compiles the register and hosts it on its website, but it comes with a huge rider: “National Register of Large Dam (NRLD) is a compilation of the large dams in the country prepared as per information received from the State Government / Authority concerned… The information given in NRLD is not binding on any party and does not confer rights or restrictions to any party.” This is so unfortunate that CWC has no ownership about even basic information about large dams in India.

State wise distribution of under construction large dams in India as per NRLD 2017

MAHARASHTRA remains, BY FAR, the state with highest number of large dams in India as the latest edition of NRLD, with total of 2354 dams, including 2069 completed and 285 under construction Large Dams. In terms of %, Maharashtra thus has 41.29% of India’s Large Dams as per latest NRLD, compared to 35.66% in the previous edition. THIS IS A HUGE JUMP, and shows that Maharashtra domination of Large Dams has in fact increased under the current Fadanvis government, even though he got elected on the band wagon of irrigation scam. This is also reflected in the fact that Maharashtra now has 285 of India’s 447 under construction large dams, that is 63.76% of under construction large dams, compared to 48.72% in the 2016 edition of NRLD. Maharashtra remains laggard, however, in terms of area under irrigation. The the allocation in next three years of Rs 55000 crores that Union Water Resources Minister Nitin Gadkari has announced for his home state soon after taking over from Uma Bharti in early Sept 2017 is likely to go down the corruption drain, but that is another story.

State wise distribution of completed large dams in India as per NRLD 2017

Categories of Dams NRLD has several categories for Large Dams of India.

Dams of National Importance are dams with height 100 metre and above or gross storage capacity of 1 billion cubic meters and above. As per current NRLD, there are 59 completed and 10 under construction dams in this category. Karnataka has the maximum number of dams (10) under this category (though it is the fourth highest in terms of total number of Large Dams), followed by Odisha (7, since 4 of them are under one project, Upper Indravati Project) and Kerala(5). Maharashtra, Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat, the top three states in terms of maximum number of large dams have Four (+1 under construction), Three and Three (+1 SSP now declared completed) respectively in this category.

Dams with Height above 50 m: NRLD lists 207 dams in this category, including 170 completed (NRLD wrongly gives the figure of 167 for this, it excludes the three Telangana Dams in totaling) and 37 under construction. Maharashtra (64), Kerala (18), Tamil Nadu (18) and Karnataka (15) have the largest number of dams in this category.

There is a category of dams above 30 m height too listed in NRLD, but the edition now on CWC website seems to have copy pasted the information from dams above 15 m in this table, possibly by mistake, but showing the callousness of CWC.

Dams with Height above 15 m: NRLD lists 3535 dams under this category, including 3201 completed and 334 under construction large dams.

Dams with Height 10-15 m: Under certain additional criteria[ii], some dams of height 10 to 15 m are considered large dams. As per NRLD, India has 2038 completed and 112 under construction dams in this category, total number being 2150. Here too Maharashtra, MP and Gujarat are the top states in terms of maximum number of dams under these categories.

River Basin not known? For each dam in NRLD, there is column for name of River Basin and name of River. This is of course primary information that one would expect that state governments and the CWC would have for each large dams. Shockingly, for majority of the dams, the river basin name is left blank and river name is mostly written as “Local Nalla”. States like Karnataka, Uttar Pradesh, W Bengal and Uttarakhand have not mentioned River Basin name for ANY of the dams in their states. Other states like Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha and Telangana, have not mentioned River Basin name for large number of dams. While Maharashtra and Tamil Nadu have mentioned river basin name for ALL the dams, Maharashtra has mentioned “Local Nalla” as River name for most of the dams. Tamil Nadu seems to the only state with significant number of large dams that has mentioned River Basin and River names for ALL the dams in the state.

Latitude-Longitude not known? Latitude and Longitude of each of the dam is key information to locate the dam. Shockingly, this basic information is missing for very large number of dams. For Karnataka and Uttar Pradesh, this information is not included in latest NRLD for ANY of the dams. For dams in Gujarat, Jammu & Kashmir, Jharkhand, Kerala, Odisha and Uttarakhand, this information is missing for large number of dams. Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu and W Bengal have given this information for ALL the dams in their states.

Outdated Information: One would expect that on such a crucial issue like LARGE dams, the states and CWC would have latest information, but even in the NRLD of April 2017, information is updated only till 2014 for most of the states. In case of some states like Chhattisgarh, the information is last updated only in June 2011. Only four states (Maharashtra, Andhra Pradesh, Telangana and Odisha) had updated information till 2016.

Year of construction Not known Even in the latest edition of NRLD, at least for 194 large dams, even year of construction is not known. The states and CWC should have taken the trouble of mentioning at least approximate period or decade in such cases.

Dams not included Even in the latest NRLD, quick glance shows that very large number of Large Dams have been excluded. Some glaring omissions, by way only illustrating examples, include: Teesta-3 (1200 MW, 60 m high dam), Jorethang Loop (15 m high dam), Tashiding Dam (>15 m high), Chuzachen HEP Dam (41 m high), Dikchu HEP Dam (36 m high). There are many other dams missing from the NRLD list, it is clear that the NRLD list if far from exhaustive.

Wrong state for dams In case of Lower Subansiri Dam, the NRLD mentions it as located in Assam, when it is located in Arunachal Pradesh.

Wrongly included The NRLD includes some names of the dams, that it should not have. For example, Luhri Dam on Sutlej river in Himachal Pradesh and Pakal Dul Dam in J &K are listed as under construction projects, but in both cases, these dams have not even received statutory clearances, so there is no question of they being under construction. In fact, the Luhri Dam mentioned in the NRLD has been cancelled.

In Conclusion The NRLD is a very important document, considering not only the investment and impacts that large dams have seen in India, but also considering the claimed benefits and implications of structural and operational safety of these dams. However, as we see in this brief article, NRLD leaves a lot to be desired even in terms of basic, reliable and consistent information. This should be seriously problematic for an organisation like CWC that claims[iii] to provide “necessary leadership and guidance for the development of the water sector and provided necessary support to the Ministry of Water Resources, River Development and Ganga Rejuvenation on all technical and policy matters”. CWC does not have reliable information even on number of large dams in India, nor does it take ownership of the information about large dams.

SANDRP has written earlier on issues related to CWC’s NRLD[iv]. Unfortunately, there is no accountability when it comes to CWC. As long as India is unable to improve the performance of CWC, the state of our rivers and dams do not have better future.

SANDRP (ht.sandrp@gmail.com)


[i] http://www.cwc.nic.in/main/downloads/NRLD_04012017.pdf

[ii] NRLD says: “A dam between 10 and 15 m in height from its deepest foundation is also included in the classification of a large dam provided it complies with one of the following conditions:

  1. a) length of crest of the dam is not less than 500 m or
  2. b) capacity of the reservoir formed by the dam is not less than one million cubic meters or
  3. c) the maximum flood discharge dealt with by the dam is not less than 2000 cubic meters per second or
  4. d) the dam has especially difficult foundation problems, or
  5. e) the dam is of unusual design”.

[iii] http://www.cwc.gov.in/main/downloads/Annual%20Report%20CWC_%202015-16.pdf, p (i)

[iv] https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2014/05/15/cwcs-national-dam-register-violates-laws-and-sc-orders-on-uttarakhand-dams/, https://sandrp.wordpress.com/2013/03/14/how-much-do-we-know-about-our-dams-and-rivers/

5 thoughts on “India’s National Register of Large Dams: Shows how little we know about our dams

  1. Thanks SANDRP for bringing to our notice such loopholes in this important document. The government documents always have such inconsistency when it comes to information.


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