All users of groundwater in the country, barring the armed forces, farmers and individual households, may have to cough up more from June 1 next year as the Centre has decided to slap — for the first time — a water conservation fee (WCF) on groundwater extracted.

The WCF, which varies with the category of the area, type of industry and quantum of water extraction, was one of the major features of the revised groundwater extraction guidelines notified by the Ministry of Water Resources, an official statement said on Thursday. Apart from industrial units, all business establishments and infrastructure projects, such as residential complexes, office buildings, hotels and hospitals, have to pay WCF. It could vary from ₹1 to ₹100 per m3 of water extracted.

The guidelines, in line with the earlier directions of the National Green Tribunal, also insist on mandatory audit for industries extracting 500 m3/day or more groundwater in safe and semi-critical regions, and 200 m3/day or more in critical and over-exploited regions.

The WCF will progressively increase from safe to over-exploited areas and from low to high water consuming industries as well as with increasing quantum of groundwater extraction. The WCF is meant to discourage the setting up of new industries in over-exploited and critical areas, and deter large-scale groundwater extraction by industries, the statement said. It is also expected to force industries to take steps to use water efficiently, and discourage the growth of packaged drinking water units.

While farmers and households using less than 1-inch diameter delivery pipes do not need to get a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the authorities, all others have obtain an NOC and renew it regularly.

India which extracts 253 billion m3 of groundwater per year, accounts for about 25 per cent of the global groundwater extraction. Out of a total 6,584 assessment units in the country, 1,034 have been categorised as ‘over-exploited’ 253 as ‘critical’, 681 as ‘semi-critical’ and 4,520 as ‘safe’. The remaining 96 assessment units have been classified as ‘saline’.

Other salient features of the revised guidelines include encouraging the use of recycled and treated sewage water by industries, provision of action against polluting industries, and mandatory requirement of installing digital flow meters.

The Central Ground Water Authority (CGWA) has been mandated to regulate groundwater development and management in the country, even in States which are not directly controlled by the Authority.