10 years of CMS VATAVARAN Journey

Putting Environment on the National Agenda - and making a difference too
10 years of CMS VATAVARAN Journey

Dr N Bhaskara Rao
Chairman, CMS

Twenty years ago news media of the country were hardly covering any issues to do with environment except for an occasional report on pollution or Ganga cleanup. A discussion with chiefs of media brought out that neither of the environmental issues were considered seriously and they were not equipped to do any better. On the other, our research on agenda setting process in the country indicated that without media coverage, there was no chance of becoming a national concern. At that time CMS Media Lab which tracks contents of news media indicated that environmental issues put together hardly constituted one percent of news. That was the challenge that leads to this CMS VATAVARAN experiment. Our concern then was how to put environment on the national agenda with local concerns? We realized at the very outset that news media coverage has to be substantially higher.

Our research in the previous 20 years had indicated that environmental issues are at the core of social and economic development endeavors of the country. That is how CMS had come up with the idea of CMS VATAVARAN. Insights gained from my experience particularly working (1963 - 66) in green revolution, national family planning campaign (1970 - 74), and Social Audit (1993 - 98) helped to come up with "social mobilization" model based on which CMS VATAVARAN was designed. With proliferating visual media in the country after 2000 we took to visual media supported by discussions and discourage with subject expects and citizens.

We thought we need to first increase media coverage and simultaneously increase concern of the public. That is how CMS VATAVARAN was taken up as an experiment - which now after ten years - has become a national movement.

What entails CMS VATAVARAN? First task was to identify film producers who did one or other aspect or phenomena or issue of environment and encourage them showcase their creativity which otherwise were languishing.

The second was generating interest in news media. First which aspect or phenomena or issue of environment could be covered, where or how the software could be acquired. And also generate viewer interest in such contents as well.

A third objective of CMS VATAVARAN was involvement of public - particularly, children and youth. We thought experts need to interface with such public and sustain concerns. For that a series of workshops, discussions, debates and painting contests, environment games etc were added to the film screenings.

Starting with hardly 50, today we have a network of 250 producers from across the country.

Then we realized early enough that whatever we do should not be Delhi - centric. That is how CMS VATAVRAN Travelling Film Festival was devised by taking the idea to around the country. So far we had taken this platform to some 26 cities. And wherever we held this festival we identified and sparked local talent but also concern in the civil society.

During these ten years, CMS VATAVRAN was held 35 festivals at 26 cities. We must have identified some 500 film producers, showcased a 1,000 work on some 20 different themes. Some 5, 00,000 people in all we must have involved in this process with some 200 - 250 experts as jury and as many experts participating in discussions. We must have awarded so far some 100 films with Rs 50,000 to Rs 1, 50, 00 each over the ten years.

Equally significant is that CMS VATAVARAN must have lead easily to a dozen policy interventions in the States and at the Centre. That is these films have not only identified an issue but lead to the Government agency take action by way of a corrective or a policy initiative. There are examples of each kind. CMS VATAVRAN hopes to see that concern for environmental issues receives coverage of nearly about 10 percent of news media, both newspapers and channels (by 2016). But there, as CMS studies over the years has brought out, "more is not necessarily merrier". As such merely doing more is not enough, doing the coverage with an intention to make a difference, and do it strategically and on an ongoing basis. Also, the coverage of news media should be such that it prompts the very thinking of people and even change their behaviours. Otherwise, more media coverage causes "numbing" and to a "washout". There are many examples for those phenomena.

Visual media could attract and draw the attention of people but how it could also lead to a change in behavior? It is with this objective that CMS VATAVARAN is experimenting with various activities like painting by children, environmental games, comic for change, debates, workshops, field visits, etc. The kind of response CMS VATAVRAN is receiving is amazing. Despite increased access and exposure to television since 2000, children are coming to by bus loads and from distances to see the films at CMS VATAVRAN festival has been on the increase, not on decline. Even more is the kind of interest schools are taking to enthuse and sensitize their children and make them proactive too. This to me gives ever more satisfaction.


Dr N Bhaskara Rao is the chairman of India's prestigious and well known research organisation CMS (www.cmsindia.org). He also is the Founder Chairman of widely respected marketing research and forecasting firm MDRA (www.mdraonline.com). Prior to establishing CMS in 1992, he helped build the research firm ORG. Dr Rao is credited with several path-breaking research methodologies and studies. He pioneered psephology-based election studies in India. His studies over the years on electronic media, telecom and electronic sectors have helped the respective ministries in formulating perspectives and strategies. He has been on several important committees of the government of India and is one of the early proponents of Social Audit approach to public utilities and services. He also led India's first two Social Audit Panel's between 1993 and 1998.

Dr N Bhaskara Rao's exemplary education achievements include three post-graduate degrees and a PhD from University of Iowa (1970), USA. He has authored several publications and currently edits the journal Transparency Review. He has founded more than a couple of civil society groups and research agencies. He is very passionate for causes related to environment, social justice, transparency, good governance and education. He believes that not only the causes but also the individuals/organisations who have made significant contributions to these causes should be encouraged, and recognized. CMS, the organisation which he founded continues to be instrumental in instituting awards for excellence and role model and spearheading many of them. Some of the significant ones includes:

Areas Award


CMS VATAVARAN Awards - biennial awards presented to Indian and international filmmakers on various environmental themes. The Prithvi Ratna Award is the highest honour.

Active citizenry

CMS Role Model Award - is presented to an individual for his/her significant contributions in various fields

Environment at Grassroots Level

Green Hero Awards- are presented to individuals and organisations for creating environmental awareness and implementing on-ground projects which has brought significant difference in their area.


CMS Academy Awards - are presented to TV News Channels and Bulletins for excellence in broadcasting and their sensitive portrayal of wide range of issues concerning the society

Gender Sensitivity

UNFPA-CMS Art for Social Change Awards - are presented to young artists from country's finest art colleges for their sensitive portrayal of Girl Child leading to greater awareness about the declining child sex ratio in the country


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