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Aamir’s Paani makes a splash

Actor Aamir Khan and his wife Kiran Rao have started Paani Foundation, a not-for-profit company whose main objective will be to communicate, impart knowledge and bring about a change in outlook at the grassroots level about water conservation and watershed management. Paani will work with the Maharashtra government towards solving the water crisis in the state.

Mr Khan and Maharashtra chief minister Devendra Fadnavis made the announcement at a press conference in Mumbai on Wednesday. Also present on stage were film-maker Raj Kumar Hirani and Paani’s advisory board members Kumarmangalam Birla, Amit Kalyani and Rajiv Bajaj.

The other advisory board members of the Foundation are Ratan Tata, Nita Ambani, Deepak Parekh, Baba Kalyani, Anu Aga, Dr Avinash Pol, Popatrao Pawar, Svati Chakravarty and Atul Kulkarni. Satyajit Bhatkal will lead operations as its CEO, and Khan’s ex-wife Reena Dutta is COO. Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR), a not-for-profit NGO founded in 1993, is a knowledge partner.

Speaking about the actor, Mr Fadnavis said, “He is not being a brand ambassador but working on ground.” Maharashtra’s government already runs Jalyukt Shivar Abhiyan, a scheme that aims to make the state drought free by 2019. Mr Khan said, “We felt the need to scale it up and make the government scheme into a civil society movement at our end.”

Earlier, Mr Khan had told that he had been working on the idea of the foundation for almost a year. It began to take shape on May 1, Maharashtra Day, in 2015, in a meeting he had with the CM. “We were involved with various social issues for five years through the three seasons of Satyamev Jayate. We then decided to focus on one problem in Maharashtra which is my janmabhoomi and karmabhoomi, [birthplace and workplace].”

There are lots of NGOs working in the field so how would Paani’s work differ? “Other NGOs are investing in structures, while we will invest in people,” Mr Khan said. The foundation’s first step, he said, was the Satyamev Jayate Water Cup, a water management competition between villages.

Mr Bhatkal, Paani’s CEO, said that the competition would “also help build community spirit” and hopefully bring some unknown ‘water heroes’ into the spotlight. In three talukas in three different districts — Koregaon in Satara, Warud in Amravati and Ambajogai in Beed — gram panchayats will be invited to participate in a contest. It will be publicised in local cable networks, newspaper and on digital and social media. Participating villages will nominate five members each for free training for the contest, for which the last date for applications is March 7. Youth and women contestants will be encouraged.

Selected candidates will be trained on-field in villages that have successfully carried out watershed management. After the training, there will be a 45-day contest, ending May 31.The villages will be helped to prepare a water plan and budget, and to access funds and government and technical help.

Contesting villages will then be evaluated by experts on their watershed management and conservation efforts. The first prize will be Rs 50 lakh, second Rs 30 lakh and the third for Rs 20 lakh.A digital platform will collate all the data and accept contributions from supporters.

Mr Khan wants to also encourage his friends and other celebrities to join him in the water movement, and become water mentors. “People want a positive change and there’s no problem that can’t be solved by coming together,” he said.The CM concurred, pointing out that water is an “open mission.” The more who join in, the merrier.

About Liviya Jacob

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