He has been drawing crowds at cinemas across the globe, but soon actor Aamir Khan will be drawing some crowds at a village near you, and it’s not for a film.
Bringing the same passion with which he makes and stars in films, the actor is using his star power to change the fortunes of drought-prone villages of Maharashtra through his Paani Foundation, and can reel off statistics about the Maharashtra’s villages, talk about water conserving technologies, soil conditions and the economics of water like an expert.
On May 1, Khan and his team at Paani Foundation are expected to mobilise around two lakh city folks and take them across villages in 75 talukas of Maharashtra to volunteer for a day. Despite his hectic shooting schedule (his latest film, Thugs of Hindostan,is set for a November release), Khan says whenever the foundation needs him, he makes himself available. This could mean travelling hundreds of kilometres to give a pep talk to and nudge stubborn or disinterested villages to get going. Around 116 villages from Vidarbha, Marathwada and western Maharashtra have completed water projects, of which the actor thinks 45 villages did amazingly well and around 35 have done ok. “Our experience shows that 45 days of a village doing concentrated work has a huge impact on water availability in the next year and villages even become water surplus in some cases,” says Khan.
After an appeal from him, people have registered to volunteer as Jalmitras on May 1, which is Maharashtra Day. They will help in creating watershed management structures that will conserve water for the villages. The foundation does not donate any money, equipment or build structures and this is not a transaction based relationship, says Khan. He has visited around 50 villages in the last couple of years to get the message across that people need to help themselves. What the foundation does is play a catalytic role in the whole process by training key village representatives in watershed development and make the villages tanker-free, improve harvest, grow income and ultimately ring in socio-economic changes in the villages.
Paani Foundation is a not-for-profit company started by Aamir Khan and Kiran Rao in 2016. The foundation is backed by the Tata Trust, Bajaj Auto’s Rajiv Bajaj, HDFC’s Deepak Parekh, Reliance Foundation and the Piramals, whose funds are used by the Paani Foundation to train villagers in the science of watershed management. Five persons per village are trained. The villagers then plan and execute various watershed management works in their villages with government or NGO assistance. The Bharatiya Jain Sanghatana has chipped in with equipment and machinery. The foundation would like to scale up to 150 trainers and 40 training centres from current level of 18 trainers and three centres to reach 1,300 villages. Khan calls this a people’s movement and he intends to stay focused on the state as it is closer to his heart and finds it easy to communicate in Marathi.