Fearing the rapid depletion of groundwater, the Maharashtra government will levy a cess on the use of deep wells for its extraction, either for agricultural or industrial use. The Maharashtra Water Resources Regulatory Authority (MWRRA) is already collecting a cess on extraction from deep wells in notified and non-notified areas. “However, the new cess will be about two to four times the amount being collected. It will be collected by the State Revenue Department in consultation with the State groundwater authority,” said a Revenue Department official.

Senior officials said the cess will be levied every financial year and collected before the end of March 31. Charges in the notified area will be four times the cess collected by the MWRRA, established under the Water Resources Act, 2005. In the non-notified areas, it will be twice the MWRRA cess. The notification for levy of cess was issued by the State government last week under the Maharashtra Groundwater (Development and Management) Act, 2009. The State Department of Water Supply and Sanitation will oversee the implementation of the Act. The public has been asked to provide suggestions and objections to the cess before September 1.

Last year, a report of the Groundwater Surveys and Development Agency had reported a dip of one metre each in 60% of the State’s tehsils. “Of the 353 tehsils in Maharashtra, 218 have shown groundwater level depletion by at least one metre. A total of 5,166 villages in these tehsils would face water scarcity during summer,” the report, released last year, said. Depletion, it said, was a result of farmers opting for water-intensive crops or exploitation of resources by private companies supplying drinking water.

Water conservation activists said merely imposing a cess will not work until the government controls drilling operators, who are instrumental in digging borewells beyond the permissible limit of 180 feet. The State must set up the machinery and mobile checking units to restrict the movement of drilling machines, they said. “This issue has been discussed so many times in the past, yet, drilling operators enjoy political patronage in smaller cities and villages. As long as the government does not monitor the drilling of borewells — which have in some regions gone as deep as 700 ft — ground water levels will continue to drop. No cess will help,” said water conservationist Amol Gawande, who works in the drought-prone areas of Marathwada.

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