Water Conservation: Government Initiatives Vs Media Interventions

By Venkat Pulapaka* and Sreedevi Purayannur**



The states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh have faced acute water shortage, drought and near famine conditions from the beginning of the millennium. Alternate methods of water conservation are important in alleviating this problem. Media intervention along with participation from the people is key to implementing these methods of water conservation, especially rainwater harvesting.

Through a detailed analysis of news reports and media campaigns, the paper looks at the best way of spreading awareness about water conservation and tries to determine if the bottom-up approach (also known as Information Model) with media intervention is the better way.


* Professor and Head, School of Journalism and Mass communication, SRM University

** Lecturer, Amrita School of Communication, Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham


Aims and Objectives


            The number of water wars being fought in the country is on the rise. During 2007 India witnessed politico-legal fights for water between Kerala and Tamil Nadu over Mullaperiyar, Tamil Nadu and Karnataka over Cauvery and Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh over Krishna waters. Acute water shortage had even led the Union Government to declare the year 2007 as the Year of Water.

            The paper aims to look at the relevance of alternate methods of water conservation, especially rainwater harvesting, and the role of media in popularizing these methods and its effectiveness in comparison with Government-led initiatives in the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala and Andhra Pradesh.



Justification and Relevance of the topic


            According to a Coca-Cola company’s online publication that focuses on the MNC’s environment-conservation activities, India “lays claim to less than four per cent of the world’s freshwater resources”, despite the fact that one in six people on the planet live in this country (www.cokefacts.org). This would account for the acute water scarcity in many parts of the nation and the resultant droughts and famines. But zooming in further, there are evidences of acute water mismanagement also in several rain-fed parts of the country.

            For example, the state of Kerala has experienced periods of extreme water scarcity despite its rainfall being 2.5 times more than the national average; the state gets six months of rain every year. Taking this into consideration, the state’s leading vernacular daily the Malayala Manorama had even gone on an intensive campaign to popularize and implement rain water harvesting.

            This paper would like to examine why the media had to intervene in places like Kerala and what the role of the Government was in tackling severe droughts like the one in Kerala in 2004, and the near-famine conditions in Andhra Pradesh at the turn of the millennium.


Research Methodology


The universe of the study comprised several news reports, in-depth articles, letters to the editor, and content on government and non-government websites published during the calendar years 1995 and 2007. The method of content analysis was used to examine the direction of coverage given to environment journalism with specific reference to water conservation and rain water harvesting.


Analysis and Findings


The rain-deficient Tamil Nadu has several water conservation initiatives to its credit. Since the turn of the millennium, the policy makers in the public and the private spheres had identified three key areas that needed immediate implementation of Rain Water Harvesting (RWH): households, Government and corporates. The focus of the RWH drive, although quite effective in generating awareness and involving lay people, has not been able to achieve much. The Government brought out comprehensive legislation in 2003 that made Chennai the first city in the country to make RWH mandatory. “RWH activists have put the figures at an estimated 5,000 homes in Chennai, a negligible number to say the least, in implementing the legislation” (Lalitha Sridhar). Though Government used the media to advertise the need for and benefits of RWH, it was not enough to sufficiently motivate people to conserve water through RWH process. The focus in Tamil Nadu was more on ‘water literacy’ than on ‘people’s participation’. Implementation of water conservation initiatives, however, has remained an uncharted territory (The Hindu).   


In contrast, rain-rich Kerala’s Government is yet to wake up to the problem of large-scale drought conditions plaguing the state for the past few years. Except for some Panchayat-level initiatives, the Government has not done much in conserving water. Panchayats like Kumbalanghi and Chellanam had come up in 2003 with their own idea of `rain water pit'. (The Hindu). Media major Malayala Manorama had to intervene and launch a massive save water campaign called Pala Thulli in 2004. The media giant roped in the services of film actor Mammootty and went on a series of road shows to educate people on the importance of water conservation for halting and reversing the fast falling ground water levels. These were backed up by in-depth reports and editorials on rainwater harvesting and the ways of combating the drought that hit the state in 2004. This media intervention not only received acclaim from the United Nations but forced the slumbering Government to wake up and inculcated a new water culture among the hitherto complacent people. (The Week)


Andhra Pradesh is an interesting case study. Despite several Government initiatives over the decades, people of the state went about encroaching and filling up water bodies (the best example is the near dry Musi River) and constructing homes. Not content with that and thanks to the real estate boom triggered by the IT industry, people resorted to drilling more bore wells only to suck out the precious ground water. However, when the bore wells threatened to outnumber the state’s population, Government stepped in to regulate the bore well menace by introducing licence system (BBC).


The Government did come up with various water conservation and rainwater harvesting projects like Neeru Meeru, $1billion Water Conservation Mission, and Jala Chaitanyam, but when they didn’t reach out to the people, Telugu media giant Eenadu had to step in (The Hindu, Business Line). The newspaper successfully launched full page state-wide save-water campaigns called Sujalam-Suphalam in the year 2000. There have been instances where rural folk volunteered to repair neglected water bodies and take up new watershed programmes. (D V R Murthy)




The research leads to the conclusion that people’s involvement and motivation is a necessary factor in successful water conservation through RWH. Government policies that stay put in the higher echelons of public servants will render those policies useless. Media intervention has played an important role in motivating people and implementing various methods of water conservation in many parts of the country and it leads to the conclusion that the same can be duplicated in other water-scarce parts of the country. Also, to succeed, the Government should involve all the stakeholders, especially the media and the people, while taking up water conservation projects. 



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