Work on 99 pending major- and medium-sized irrigation projects worth around Rs 77,595 crore has begun, Mint reported on Wednesday. The projects focus on drought-hit regions such as Bundelkhand in Uttar Pradesh and Marathwada in Maharashtra, Water Resources Minister Uma Bharti said, adding that Prime Minister Narendra Modi had made irrigation “a top priority” of his government.

Of the total, 23 projects are expected to be completed by 2016-’17, 31 by 2018 and the remaining 45 by 2019, according to the statement released by the Water Resources Ministry. At least 56 of the 99 undertakings will be in the most parched regions of the country. They are expected to bring water to 7.6 million hectares of land.

Ministry Secretary Shashi Shekhar said that earlier, irrigation programmes overran their costs by an average of 1,352%, a “huge waste of public money”. Large amounts of money allocated for incomplete projects were “locked up”, with the schemes not being able to achieve their projected benefits, the ministry’s statement added.

While presenting the Union Budget in February, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had announced that the National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development would create a long-term irrigation fund with a corpus of Rs 20,000 crore. In June, Union minister Nitin Gadkari had said the central government had decided to bring two crore hectares of land under irrigation to tackle the agrarian crisis caused every year by water scarcity in the summer.