Mumbai: Bollywood superstar Aamir Khan, whose comments on "intolerance" sparked a row last year and invited the wrath of right-wing outfits, is partnering with the BJP-led Government in Maharashtra for its flagship water conservation and drought-mitigation programme.
Aamir Khan. Pic/ PTI
Aamir and wife Kiran Rao, along with the team of his popular TV show "Satyamev Jayate", have formed "Paani Foundation", which will work in association with the Government to solve water crisis in the drought-affected
"When we did 'Satyamev Jayate' programme we saw the on ground results which were very strong. But we didn't work on ground then. We thought we should take a step forward and focus on one topic till we solve it.
"Satyajit Bhatkal (the show's director) and I chose water because it's very important and Maharashtra because we were born here. We thought we should begin with this," Aamir said at a press conference where Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and industrialists were also present.
The actor announced "Satyamev Jayate Water Cup", which will work for 'Jal Yukt Shivar', the Fadnavis Government's flagship scheme aimed at making villages drought-free in five years through water conservation programmes.
The actor said he won't be the only face of the initiative and plans to rope in Marathi celebrities to push the cause. "We are requesting lots of Marathi celebrities, sports people, actors etc to become mentors and take over villages.
Just to encourage people.... we want this to become a movementwhere everybody gets involved. I won't be the only face."
The first edition of the cup will be restricted to three districts and within those one taluka each. From western Maharashtra, it will be Koregaon taluka (Satara district); from Vidarbha, it will be Warud taluka (Amravati) and Ambajogai taluka (Beed district in Marathwada).
The aim is to communicate and create awareness among people at the grassroot level about water conservation and watershed management, the superstar said.
He said during the period of the initiate he won't stop doing films but will be involved with the programme throughout.
Addressing the press meet, Fadnavis said Aamir did not want the title of brand ambassador of 'Jal Yukt Shivar'. "When Aamir first told me about his desire to work in water conservation efforts in Maharashtra, he made it clear he wasn't interested in becoming brand ambassador of the programme.
"Aamir told me he was only interested in working on the ground and not in becoming the brand ambassador," he said. The BJP-led Government has launched "Jalyukt Shivar" in a bid to make Maharashtra drought-free by 2019. The project involves deepening and widening of streams, construction of cement and earthen stop dams, work on nullahs and digging of farm ponds.
It aims to make 5,000 villages free of water scarcity every year. Aamir said "the team of Satyamev will be working full time for it. I will be in direct touch with them. I won't stop doing films but my involvement will be the same as you see in films."
He wished to speak to actor Nana Patekar to come on board for the initiative as he had been working towards the issue since one year. "I am going to meet him today... I will definitely talk to him about it. He is already doing great work. All of us have seen the kind of work he has done. Like Nana, many people should come forward to contribute to the cause.
"Maharashtra's water problem is man-made, not nature- made," Fadnavis said in an apparent reference to the previous Congress-NCP Government's inability to boost irrigation potential in the State, where nearly 15,000 villages, mostly in Marathwada region, were declared drought-hit last year.
"Aamir is a good communicator. The Government's welfare schemes can't be propagated among people through Government lingo alone," the Chief Minister said.
Aamir, wading into the "intolerance" debate, had late last year kicked up a controversy by saying he has been "alarmed" by a number of incidents and his wife Kiran Rao even suggested that they should probably leave India. His comments evoked sharp criticism from ruling BJP and also the NDA Government. Right-wing outfits had protested against his remarks.
Later, the 50-year-old actor's contract as brand ambassador for the Government's Incredible India campaign was not renewed by the Tourism Ministry.
Fadnavis also mentioned about contribution of Patekar and another actor Makrand Anaspure in drought relief work. Industrialists Kumar Mangalam Birla, Rajiv Bajaj and Amit Kalyani were also present at the press conference.
Birla said a water conservation movement like the one launched by Aamir's NGO Pani Foundation needs a face which people trust. "Aamir is that face," he added.
Bajaj, Managing Director of Bajaj Auto, said, "When Aamir invited me to share his ideas with me, I felt there was a child-like enthusiasm in him. Bajaj Auto is happy to lend support to this noble cause."
Kalyani of Pune-based Bharat Forge said he used to wonder why no one is doing anything to tackle drought despite all the technology and resources available. "It is nice to see that CM has taken this initiative to solve the problem."
Filmmaker Rajkumar Hirani, who has closely worked with the actor, said, "Aamir always mentioned to me that our work is not just to show shortcomings in society and the country but but also to offer solutions to those problems."
Prominent public personalties Mukesh Ambani and Sachin Tendulkar have also lent their support to the cause.
In a video message shown on the occasion, Ambani said, "I am privileged to support the initiative of Pani Foundation and the Satyamev Jayate Water Cup."
Tendulkar, in a video message, said "we all know how grave water situation in Maharashtra is. I am very happy that Pani Foundation has decided to work in this area."