Sri Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya or simply Sri M. Visvesvaraya was a renowned Indian civil engineer and the 19th Dewan of Mysore. He was born to parents Mokshagundam Srinivasa Sastry, an ayurvedic practitioner, and Venkatalakshamma, a homemaker on 15th September 1860 in the Chikballapur district of Mysore, Karnataka. Some of his most well-known projects include Krishna Raja Sagar Dam, Mysore Iron and Steel Works and the University of Mysore. As a major force behind India’s development, he has been the recipient of some of the highest honours like the Bharat Ratna and Knight Commander of the Order of the British Empire. In a period of colonialism where the British had supremacy and not many Indians could manage to have extreme success, Visvesvaraya succeeds all expectations and achieved immense success. He lived a long and fulfilling life and died at the age of 102 years on 12th April 1962 and was cremated in his birthplace as per his wishes.
Visvesvaraya as a student
Visvesvaraya’s years as a student were marked by diligence, perseverance, and discipline. In his early years, most of his education was under his parents and his uncle H. Ramiah, from who he got his quality of discipline. He later attended middle school in Chikkaballapur. At the age of 15, tragedy struck Visvesvaraya’s family when his father passed away during a pilgrimage trip to Rameswaram. After this event, he was sent to Bangalore with his uncle where he finished his high school education from Wesleyan Mission High School. After completion of his high school education, he joined the Central College for a degree course and it was during this time that Visvesvaraya has to start earning for his education, therefore he became a private tutor to His Highness the Maharaja of Mysore.
His hardworking and sheer intelligence made him an excellent student and his abilities were noticed especially by the principal of Central College, Charles Walters, who also used to make him teach certain mathematical problems to other students. In fact, he had so much affection and admiration towards Visvesvaraya that he gifted him a copy of Webster’s Dictionary and after retiring back to London, came back only to specially present Visvesvaraya gold cufflinks as a memento. He went to pass his degree course with distinction in 1880 and then study engineering from the College of Science in Poona through the scholarship for bright students to help them get education out of the state. In 1883, he completed is L.C.E and F.C.E.L and secured first rank in the Bombay Presidency, showing his academic brilliance.
Working in Bombay and Hyderabad
As the first ranking student in the Bombay Presidency, Visvesvaraya was offered a job as an assistant engineer at the Bombay Public Works in Nasik. His first assignment was a construction of a syphon on river Panjra, which proved to be a challenging one. Monsoon had made the construction difficult and Visvesvaraya calculated that it would be a smarter choice to build the syphon after monsoons are gone, a suggestion that his superior rejected and insisted that the syphon be constructed in this weather itself. Since Visvesvaraya was all about staying true to his public duty, he did not give up and even took to swimming to the camp himself even if it ensured that his work was done on time, which he managed to do.
His dedication to his work earned him the admiration of his superior, executive engineering H. G Palliser, who encouraged him to take the practical exam for promotion much earlier than one would normally do. He passed this exam with flying colors and earned a quick promotion to work under the executive engineer in Poona for roads and buildings. He did his job remarkably well and earned praises of his superiors and the people he benefitted from his work. Later, he was posted in Sind and became in-charge of water supply and drainage in Sukkur. Sukkur was a place with bad climatic conditions. The task of supplying water to this area from the Indus River was difficult as the water was not fit for usage.
Visvesvaraya had to come up with a cost-effective and efficient way of filtering the water from the river so that it could reach the people of Sukkur. The task at hand was challenging, but once again Visvesvaraya put his innovative genius to use. Instead of using filter beds, he got a circular well dug in the riverbank and connected it with a tunnel dug under the river where there would be percolation of water through sand and filtered water reached the tanks on a nearby hill. After the success of his project in Sukkur, he carried out a similar project to supply water from the Tapti River to Surat. Another example of Visvesvaraya’s great innovative mind was the automatic flood gates he designed and patented for Lake Fife, from which Poona got most of its water supply. The flood gates were installed with the aim of increasing storage capacity as most of the water from the lake used to flow out, but thanks to Visvesvaraya’s thinking, water supply in Poona increased by 25%. This project garnered him more respect and prestige as an engineer by officials and non-officials alike. This model was also used for the Krishnarajasagar Dam in Karnataka.
He also helped out the agriculture sector of Poona by devising a way to utilize the water from Musa Canal for irrigation of suburb lands. The water was to be supplied by a system of rotation to prevent wasting of water. This was initially opposed by the ryots in the area but Visvesvaraya managed to convince them by informing them about the benefits of this system and even gave them control of the rotation, after which they agreed to implement his plan and in the process, also developed a lot of respect for him for the way he addressed their concerns.
Visvesvaraya became increasingly known for his abilities by this time. He also gave the scheme of block irrigation to the Irrigation Commission of India whereby a given amount of water would be used to irrigate a large amount of land with triennial rotation of crops. Later in 1904, he became the sanitary engineer for the Bombay Government, where he made and implemented multiple schemes related to sanitation and drainage. He visited the port of Aden to work out a scheme for water supply and drainage in 1906, as it was huge problem in that area and people spend a lot of money on getting water. Therefore, he got a well sunk in Lahex river and water was supplied to Aden through conduit pipes. This also turned out to be a success and the Bombay Government was very satisfied with the results.
Visvesvaraya got quick promotions due to his merit and excellence but he felt he could do much more if he was appointed as the Chief Engineer. However, he still had to wait for a few years for that but the chances were still highly slim as only Britishers could be appointed to such high posts at that time period. Due to this, he resigned from his post after 23 years of service but because of his contributions, the government made an exception for him and considered him eligible for additional pension even though he would have to serve for two more years to be eligible for it by the rules. This shows how highly revered he was in his workplace. After retiring from his post in Bombay, the Nizam of Hyderabad offered Visvesvaraya a job as a special consulting engineer in Hyderabad. The reason why the Nizam called him to Hyderabad was to solve the problem of monsoon floods caused by the Moosi river that would cause havoc in the area – the consequences of which were too catastrophic.
Visvesvaraya, assisted by his team of other engineers and personnel, conducted a thorough survey and investigation of the land and after calculating upon it, came to the conclusion that the problem could be solved by the construction of two reservoirs above the city that can appropriate the flow of this excess floodwater. While he did not stay in Hyderabad to oversee the entire project coming to life as he had already accepted a posting in Mysore, he visited Hyderabad at regular intervals to check on the progress of the project. In addition to that, he had also developed several development schemes for the town and formed a report on the deficiencies and correct measures for Hyderabad for developing the city more, which was received positively and implemented as such.