By Moin Qazi
On the occasion of Maharashtra Day -May 1- lakhs of residents or ‘Jalmitras’ will be coming out to work shoulder to shoulder with villagers as a part of Aamir Khan’s the Paani foundation, which aims to combat the drought in the state.
Khan is shepherding a revolutionary campaign of making Maharashtra drought-free in five years. The movie star started the initiative with hopes of galvanising the rural population to go back to fundamental lessons of water management taught by their ancestors.
Satyamev Jayate, Khan’s TV show that started in 2012, focused on issues that required social change. The response to the show was phenomenal as people from various walks of showed keenness to make a difference. Aamir’s team believed that if they worked in a specific area on a specific issue, they could be part of a massive social transformation. They zeroed in on the issue of water scarcity and decided to work in Maharashtra, thereby starting their non-profit, Paani Foundation, which aimed to spread knowledge about water management and groundwater replenishment.
Satyameva Jayate Water Cup
Khan has adopted a unique approach to getting the public interested in his work, with the help of the Satyameva Jayate Water Cup, which has infused a competitive spirit in the participants. The movement started in 2016 with 16 villages and has now spread to 4000 villages across 24 of state’s 36 districts.
The competition is put together by three non-profits—Paani Foundation, Watershed Organisation Trust and Sparsh-Centre for Participatory Learning. Villages are assessed on watershed management and water conservation works for the competition.
Prizes for the Cup include cash prizes of Rs 50 lakh, Rs 30 lakh and Rs 20 lakh for the top three villages. Dr Avinash Pol, known as the ‘paanyache (water) doctor’, is the inspiration for the foundation and has said that 80% of the villages that participated in the competition last year created enough capacity to “bid goodbye to the water tankers they had been dependent on for years.”
Unique nature of the endeavour
The Paani Foundation has worked out a very careful strategy to enthuse half-abandoned villages into battling drought. The secret is Aamir‘s unique charisma that serves as the glue to enthuse and bind the people.
The process commences with Khan writing a personal letter to every gram panchayat, inviting the village to join the water competition. Each competing village then sends five representatives, including two women, for training. The four-day training includes technical as well as repair and maintenance training.
Upon returning to their villages the representatives help prepare an extensive watershed development plan. They are also expected to mobilise people by organizing gram sabhas(village assemblies) to explain the competition and why everyone must get involved.
The Paani Foundation arms the representatives with solid technical resources. Apart from learning to read contour maps, villagers are trained to construct various water harvesting structures, such as earthen dams, loose boulder structures, continuous contour trenches and deep continuous contour trenches amongst others.
The Watershed Organisation Trust (WOTR), based in Ahmednagar, is Paani Foundation’s knowledge partner. WOTR has trained 40 Panlot Sevaks—barefoot watershed technicians—to provide field guidance with three technical trainers stationed in each taluka.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis has also expressed his support for Khan’s endeavour. Khan’s enterprise and initiative has helped transform the “Paani adva, Paani jive” water conversation slogan of Maharashtra into a people’s movement.
Moin Qazi is the author of Village Diary of a Heretic Banker.
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