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M. Visvesvaraya biography

M. Visvesvaraya

(1861-1962)

personal details

Born
m.visvesvaraya
m.visvesvaraya

15 September 1860
Muddenahalli, Chikballapur,Kingdom of Mysore (Karnataka)
Died14 April 1962
Bangalore
NationalityIndian
Alma materUniversity of Madras, COEP
OccupationEngineer, Diwan
ProfessionEngineer
ReligionHindu

biography

M. Visvesvaraya was one of the greatest civil engineers this country has produced, leaving scores of living monuments perpetuating his memory; the dancing fountains of the Vrindaban Gardens, near Mysore, is only one of them. Visvesvaraya was also a great administrator and an educationist who tried to change the face of India through economic and intellectual regeneration. Though he did not indulge in politics during his remarkably long life, he was an ardent nationalist.
Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya (M.V. to his friends and admirers) was born on 15 September 1861 at Muddenahalli, a village near Nandi Hills in Mysore state. He belonged to an orthodox middle class Brahmin family. His father, Srinivas Sastri, was a practicing Ayurveda doctor and also a Sanskrit scholar. M.V. received his middle and high school education in the nearby town of Chickballapur. For higher education he joined the Central College, Bangalore, from where he passed his B.A. examination, with distinction, in 1880. He won a scholarship which enabled him to join College of Science at Poona for his engineering degree, which he got in 1883. He started his career as an assistant engineer in the Bombay Public Works Department. His first posting was at Nasik in 1884, but he was assigned duties in different places in the Bombay Presidency. He designed water supply scheme of Dhulia in Sind (which was part of the Bombay Presidency at that time) where he completed the special work of water supply and drainage (1894-95). I-le solved the problem of drinking water of Surat city by digging wells in the Tapti river bed. During this period one important piece of engineering which he devised was a system of automatic gates to raise the storage level of Lake Fife at Khadakvasla. He writes in his Memoirs of my Working Life: “The reservoir overflowed every year up to a height of six to eight feet above the crest of the surplus Weir. A system of automatic gates was designed by me to raise the storage water level of the lake permanently by about 8 feet above the original surplus Weir. This increased the storage in the reservoir by about 25 per cent without raising the dam”. He took out a patent for these automatic gates which are now used the World over but he refused to accept any royalty on it.
In 1901, as sanitary engineer of the Poona Municipality, M.V. prepared a project for a modern type of sewerage system for the first time for Poona. In 1904, he was promoted to the post of sanitary engineer for the Bombay Presidency and in that capacity he made improvements in the water supply system of Karachi and Ahmedabad. When a senior engineer was required to advice for the improvement of water and drainage system of Aden (a British Protectorate), Visvesvaraya was deputed and he submitted a detailed report, which was later implemented. He also prepared water supply schemes for Kolhapur, Belgaum, Dharwar and Bijapur. Hard work matched with innovative skill, brought him accelerated promotions and soon his rank was next only to the chief engineer. As the post of the chief engineer was reserved for the Britishers his chances were almost nil. Therefore, he decided to resign from the government service in 1908 after twenty-four years of service. He was honoured with the title, Kaiser-e-Hind, by the government. His more momentous achievements had yet to come.
Immediately after his retirement from government service he was requested by the Nizam of Hyderabad to advise and assist in the reconstruction of Hyderabad city which was earlier devastated by floods of the Musi River. After careful study he submitted a plan in October 1909 to save the city from such unusual floods in the future. Thereafter started the most productive period of his career when in November 1909 he joined as chief engineer of the Mysore state at the personal request of the Maharaja. This ob was much after his own heart, because the Maharaja gave him the freedom to work as he liked. He set to ameliorate the overall condition of the people through education, including technical education, and establishing a network of industries. As chief engineer, he prepared schemes for water supply, road communication and irrigation. M.V. also tried to involve more and more people, especially the intellectuals, in the regeneration of Mysore state. At his instance the Mysore Economic Conference, consisting of officials and knowledgeable non-officials, was formed to discuss the problems faced by the people of the state and to suggest solutions. But his greatest achievement was the building of the Krishnaraja Sagara Reservoir, which was made possible by building a 124 feet high dam across the Cauvery River. This extensive multipurpose project stores 48,000 million cubic feet of water for the purpose of irrigating thousands of acres of land. The Krishnaraja Sagar Dam was the largest reservoir built in India till then. It also provides an even flow of water to the Hydro-Electric Power Station at Sivasamudram, which supplied power to the Kolar Gold Mines, which were functioning at that time. The project was completed in 1915 according to schedule. The famous Vrindaban Gardens form a beautiful adjunct to the Reservoir. Gandhi visited the Darn in July, 1927 and wrote: “I saw the Krishnaraja Sagara Dam today and was delighted t0 see the wonderful engineering feat of Sir M. Visvesvaraya, the second I am told, of its kind in the World”.
In November 1912, the Maharaja appointed him as the Dewan (chief minister) of Mysore state and at once the sphere of his activities widened - education, industry, commerce and public works. His first preference was education, especially technical education. He got opened an Agricultural School in 1913, a Mechanical Engineering School the following year as Well as several industrial schools. An Engineering College was established at Bangalore (1916) and the Mysore University was founded in 1916 which gave a fillip to the spread of education in the state. The number of schools increased from 4500 to 10,500 and the student enrollment from 1, 40,000 to 3, 66,000. He also offered scholarships to meritorious students, enabling them to study abroad. For girls, the Maharani’s College in Mysore was founded along with a hostel.
Turning to industry, he took action for the development of sericulture, thus making Mysore silk famous throughout the country. He had a sandalwood oil manufacturing unit set up that was used for making soap thus starting a small scale industry of soap manufacture, which is continuing to this day. The construction of the Mysore Iron and Wood Distillation Works was started in 1918. He also put up plans for Bhadravath Iron Works (1918) and for harnessing hydroelectric power at Jog (1918). He took keen interest, along with Walchand, for starting the Hindustan Aircraft Factory at Bangalore. He canvassed for the Vishakhapatnam Shipyard and offered useful suggestions at the construction stage. He did not succeed in establishing an automobile industry in Mysore, but was able to help in the establishment of the Premier Automobile Company near Bombay. To provide easy finance for the growing industries in Mysore he founded the Bank of Mysore (1913).
Gradually, caste politics engulfed south India and Mysore was no exception. The Maharaja supported the move of reservations in appointments for depressed classes and backward communities. M. V opposed the Maharajas move on the grounds of efficiency and quality of service. When the Maharaja ignored his appeal, he resigned from the post of Dewan in February, 1918. He later took the charge of Mysore Iron and Steel Works from 1923 to 1929 on the personal request of the Maharaja, and turned it into a profitable venture for the first time. He also worked as chairman of the Committee of the Cauvery Canal System and the New Bangalore Water Supply Scheme. By that time he had earned a name as an able administrator. He advised the Bombay City Corporation (1924-25) and the Karachi Municipal Corporation (1924) about their finances and administration. Many of the cities in Western India, which have modern water supply schemes or drainage systems, owe it to Visvesvaraya. In 1937, the Orissa government requisitioned his services to suggest ways and means to solve the flood problem.
M. Visvesvaraya served as chairman of several committees constituted by the government: Bombay Technical and Industrial Education Committee (192122); Indian Economic Enquiry Committee (1925); Bangalore Political Disturbances Enquiry Committee (1929) and Irrigation Enquiry Committee, Bombay (1938). Even at age of ninety-two, Jawaharlal Nehru requested M.V. to suggest two sites for bridges over the Ganga river from among several which the state governments of UP, Bihar and West Bengal were canvassing for. Nehru observed that, He is an engineer of integrity, character and broad national outlook who could take an unbiased view, resist local pressures and whose views would be respected and accepted by all." Visvesvaraya visited all the proposed sites and weighed the merits and demerits of each and recommended Mokamah in Bihar and Farakha in West Bengal as the most suitable sites for the bridges in 1953. Nobody complained.
He retained his quest for knowledge and learning throughout his life. He visited foreign countries to study their advanced technologies, six times in 1898, 1908, 1919, 1926, 1935 and 1946 – the last one when he was eighty-six.
Visvesvaraya, though an engineer, wrote on economic matters extensively and was an advocate of planned economy. He elucidated his views in his two books Reconstructing India (1920) and Planned Economy for India (1934). He also wrote several tracts on village industries, rural industrialization and the automobile industry. His autobiography, Memoirs of My Working Life (1951), is very revealing. Honorary degrees were conferred on him by several universities. He was made a C.I.E. in 1911 and a K.C.I.E. in 1915. The Government of India conferred the Bharat Ratna on him in 1955.
M.V. had become a legend in his lifetime. People wondered how he could enjoy such good health and retain zest for life even in advanced age. Gandhi, a health faddist himself, was intrigued by Visvesvaraya’s secret of good health. Gandhi wrote to him in 1944: “You have enriched the life of the country by your unrivalled engineering skill. I have also been following too your writings on planned economy. Besides your contribution as a great engineer, what has captivated me is the art you have cultivated of keeping up in old age robust physical and mental energy. I have not forgotten the way in which you used to climb up the Nandi Hill without any effort. I would like you to give the young men and women of the country the secret, as you have known it, of feeling young and vigorous even in old age. It is a rare gift in our country."
M.V. died on 14 April 1962, at the age of hundred and one, mourned by millions and envied by many others.

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