Irrigation development under British rule began with the renovation, improvement and extension of existing works, like the ones mentioned above. When enough experience and confidence had been gained, the Government ventured on new major works, like the Upper Ganga Canal, the Upper Bari Doab Canal and Krishna and Godavari Delta Systems, which were all river-diversion works of considerable size. The period from 1836 to 1866 marked the investigation, development and completion of these four major works. In 1867, the Government adopted the practice of taking up works, which promised a minimum net return. Thereafter, a number of projects were taken up. These included major canal works like the Sirhind, the Lower Ganga, the Agra and the Mutha Canals, and the Periyar Dam and canals. Some other major canal projects were also completed on the Indus system during this period. These included the Lower Swat, the Lower Sohag and Para, the Lower Chenab and the Sidhnai Canals, ali of which went to Pakistan in 1947.
The recurrence of drought and famines during the second half of the nineteenth century necessitated the development of irrigation to give protection against the failure of crops and to reduce large scale expenditure on famine relief. As irrigation works in low rainfall tracts were not considered likely to meet the productivity test, they had to be financed from current revenues. Significant protective works constructed during the period were the Betwa Canal, the Nira Left Bank Canal, the Gokak Canal, the Khaswad Tank and the Rushikulya Canal. Between the two types of works, namely productive and protective, the former received greater attention from the Government. The gross area irrigated in British India by public works at the close of the nineteenth century was about 7.5 m.ha. Of this, 4.5 m.ha. came from minor works, like tanks, inundation canals etc. for which no separate capital accounts were maintained. The area irrigated by protective works was only a little more than 0.12 m.ha.