For the past three years, actor-director-producer Aamir Khan, his filmmaker wife Kiran Rao and CEO of Paani Foundation Satyajit Bhatkal have been working tirelessly to promote watershed management through their non-profit Paani Foundation. Taking their initiative forward, Aamir, along with Bhatkal and actor Girish Kulkarni, visited Symbiosis International University, Pune, on Friday, to put up posters at the institute and appeal to students to join the initiative. Founder and president, Symbiosis, Dr S B Mujumdar, and his wife Sanjeevani; principal director, Symbiosis Society, Dr Vidya Yeravdekar; vice-chancellor, Symbiosis International University, Dr Rajani Gupte; and newly appointed Collector of Pune, Naval Kishore Ram, were also present at the occasion.
Here, Aamir and Bhatkal share more about the foundation and where it is headed.
A people’s movement
Ask him if cities and villages should come together to take the initiative forward and Aamir says, “I definitely feel so. I think what we are trying to create is a people’s movement and it’s a great opportunity for all of us to get involved. When we started the Paani Foundation, we just worked with villages but a lot of people from cities via Facebook, Twitter kept asking me how could they contribute. So, this year, we started this initiative where people from urban areas can also contribute.”
Why the water cause
After working on their television show Satyamev Jayate, both Aamir and Bhatkal wanted to work on a common cause. “It so happened that we both chose water and Maharashtra. After which we did one year of research and travelled across the state to know more about the ground realities. We also tried to find out if the water crisis was caused by nature or was it manmade, and whether we, as humans, could alter the condition? When we understood that, we realised that Maharashtra is a big state and if we wanted to solve the problem at a big scale, we had to opt for decentralised watershed management. When I say decentralised, I mean every village should do their own work or watershed management. If that happens, Maharashtra will be water tanker free and there will be no water crisis,” he says.
Between February and March, they trained more than 20,000 villagers. “They train with us for four-and-a-half days and then work in their respective villages,” Aamir adds.
Villages adopt us
Bhatkal says that it is the farmers who grow food for us and we can help them through shramdaan. “People usually ask us on what basis we select the villages. I tell them that we don’t select the villages, they select us. Who are we to adopt the villages? They are the ones who adopt us. We are alive because our farmers are working so hard for us. We urge them to participate, whether they participate or not, is up to them. While training the villagers, we do not keep it in a particular institute but at villages that have already worked on the initiative. When they go for training in such villages they get a clear picture of what we have worked on,” says Bhatkal.
Cities needs a different approach
Water crisis is not restricted to villages. Cities like Pune, Mumbai and many others have been facing water crisis for years now. “We have been thinking about that for the last couple of years. But right now, we are concentrating on the drought areas of rural Maharashtra. Once we feel that we have completely handled it, we will move to cities,” says Aamir.
However, he points out that cities need a completely different approach because there are no open grounds anymore. “Everything is tiled here so there is no mud. More than watershed management, harvesting of water is required to tackle water crisis in cities,” says Aamir.
An enriching experience
Since he associated himself with the initiative, how has his outlook toward society and life changed? “That’s a tough question,” says Aamir and continues, “It has sensitised me a lot more as a person. It has given me a deeper understanding of life in rural India. Finally, it’s given me a lot of hope. When Kiran and I travel to villages and we meet people who have a lot of hope in their hearts despite such few resources, it fills us with hope. It makes us realise that there is so much courage and beauty in people of rural Maharashtra. It has been an enriching experience.”
The foundation has been also organising Satyamev Jayate Water Cup, which is a competition held each year between villages. The top three villages, which do best watershed management, are awarded. The Water Cup had started with three talukas in 2016 and this year, it has almost 1/4th of Maharashtra participating in it. More than 9,000 villages from 75 talukas will be competing for the Water Cup this time.