Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan is making waves again after taking on the challenge for water conservation to fight the drought in Maharashtra.
The 53-year-old actor is enrolling college students from Pune, Mumbai, Nashik, Nagpur and other cities to become jalmitras and join his initiative, ‘shramdaan’ (volunteer work offering) to carry out watershed management work being executed in the remote perennial drought-prone villages of Maharashtra.
“We are targeting to enroll over 1 lakh students who will offer shramdaan on May 1 in various drought-prone villages of Maharashtra,” Aamir Khan, who visited Symbiosis Intern?ational University in Pune last week told Financial Chronicle. May 1 also celebrated as Maharashtra Day.
He has set up Paani Foundation, a non-profit company in 2016, along with his wife Kiran Rao and the team from the popular TV show Satyamev Jayate anchored by Aamir Khan, which dealt with a range of social issues. In fact, in that same year in 2016, Maharashtra had declared that 29,000 villages were drought-hit out of the total 43,665 villages in the state.
“We found that wherever the water issue had been solved in villages like Hiware Bazar, Ralegan Siddhi, Hivre, among others, the solution lay in people’s collective efforts and labour,” Khan said.
“So, Paani Foundation was conceived to work with people across the spectrum using our skills as communicators to empower and mobilize people to work together to fight drought,” he said.
In the first year the team worked in 3 talukas, in the second year it was scaled up to 30 talukas. “We are now working in 75 talukas in 24 drought-prone districts out of the total 36 districts in the state,” Khan pointed out. This year, the Foundation has motivated 4,000 odd villages in 75 talukas of Maharashtra to implement water conservation project through shramdaan.
The scheme involves getting villages to build water conservation structures and to raise money for the machine work, testing and soil treatment and to budget water usage.
The fieldwork is carried out before the onset of monsoon so that whatever the downpour from the skies will not be wasted but collected in the bunds, trenches and artificial lakes dug up by the volunteers and villagers. According to Khan it takes about 45 days of concentrated work in a drought- prone village to prepare it for water conservation. The first results, however, begin to show a year later.
“We have tied up with the Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR), which is our knowledge partner providing technical help and training facilities to carry out watershed management and conservation programme in these villages,” Khan said, appreciating the pioneering work being carried out by WOTR founded by Jesuit Father Hermann Bacher and Crispino Lobo.
The major attraction of Paani Foundation is its Satyameva Jayate Water Cup. It is essentially a competition between different villages to see who can do the maximum work for watershed management and water conservation in the period of the competition. The Water Cup creates a platform for villagers to apply their learning from our training programme and make their villages water-abundant.
This year the three top three villages that win the Satyameva Jayate Water Cup will get cash prizes of Rs 75 lakh, Rs 50 lakh and Rs 40 lakh, respectively. In addition, the top village from each taluka will also get a cash prize of Rs 10 lakh.
According to the foundation every village willing to participate in the contest must pass a gram sabha resolution to undertake water conservation work in the village. After that the Foundation will choose five villagers for an intensive four and a half day training programme.
Once trained, they in turn teach other villagers how to construct water conservation bunds, check dams and tanks. The entire work needs to be executed in 45 days in the months of April and May, in order to be ready for the monsoon. The water percolation and collection during the forthcoming monsoon in June-September season will make the village self-sufficient during next summer.
The Tata Trusts, HT Parekh Foun?dation, Piramal Foundation, Reliance Foundation and Jankidevi Bajaj Gram Vikas Sanstha fund Paani Foundation.
In the first year, the foundation’s budget was Rs 4 crore, which shot up to Rs 20 crore in the second year and Rs 45 crore this year. “Our dream is to make Maharashtra drought-free in five years,” Khan said.