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Dr Visveshvaraiya: Engineer the great 

By  Prabhat Kishore

Many sages, great men and personalities have taken birth on the pious land of India, who have shown a new path to its prosperity and development by their great deeds. Dr. Mokshagundam Visveshvaraiya, a great engineer, efficient administrator, true nationalist and the backbone of development, was among these precious gems. Service to the nation was his aspiration, his motto and his life. Even at the age of 92 years, in 1952, he did the wonderful job of connecting the two scattered banks of the river Ganga at Mokama (Bihar) through a rail-cum-road bridge (Rajendra Setu), which was then beyond the imagination of the common man. This immortality on the soil of Bihar is still inspiring people to keep moving forward by refreshing their memories.

Dr. Mokshagundam Vishvesvaraiya was a divine gift to Bharatvarsha. He was born on 15 September 1861 in an ordinary Brahmin family in Mudanahalli village of Kolar Mandal of Karnataka (erstwhile Mysore State). His mother was Mrs. Vekkamma and father was Sri Srinivas Shastri. Only four years before his birth, the great revolt of 1857 took place for the liberation from the slavery of the British. When Visveshvaraiya was only 15 years old, his father died. Then the destitute mother went to her maternal home with him. Despite his poverty and deprivation, this child did not lose courage and continued his education by taking tuitions. He completed his graduation (honours) examination from Central College Bangalore under Madras University in 1880. Thereafter, he enrolled in Civil Engineering at the Engineering College in Pune, from where he secured first class in the engineering examination in 1886 and for which he was awarded the “James Varkle Award”. He got a lot of support from his maternal uncle Sri Ramaiah and the erstwhile Mysore state in pursuing higher education.

Dr. Visveshvaraiya started his public career in 1984 as an Assistant Engineer in the Public Works Department of the then Government of Mumbai. In 1893, he got the “Sugar Varese and Water Works” constructed, for the purpose of supplying drinking water from the Sindh river. He first introduced the Tatil system for proper use of irrigation water. In the year 1901, he presented a report on the block system of irrigation before the first Irrigation Commission in India, and showed the way to the economy. His invaluable contribution is the design and construction of fixed roller and driven gates at Khadgwasla Dam and Gwalior Dam in Pune.

Due to his sharp intellect, hardworking personality and amazing work ability, he reached the post of Superintending Engineer in the year 1904 at the age of just 33 years. In the same year he became a member of the Institution of Engineers, London. It was a big deal for an Indian to reach the post of Superintending Engineer during the British rule. By then, Dr. Visveshvaraiya had made his mark in the field of construction. The construction work of “Sugar Varese and Water Works” brought him all India fame. E. K. Ronald, the then Chief Engineer of the Public Works Department of the Government of Mumbai, addressed him as the “Wonder of India”. He served the Bombay government till 1908. Due to day-to-day neglect by the British rule, he resigned from the service of the Bombay Government in 1908.

Due to his ability, efficiency, punctuality, selfless devotion to the nation, the Maharaja of Mysore State Shri Krishnaraj Wadiyar appointed him as the Chief Engineer of the state in the year 1909. From 1909 to 1912, he was the chairman of the Mysore State Technical Education Committee. He not only gave shape to the big irrigation projects in the Mysore state, but also gave a new dimension to the railway system. The Krishnasagar dam built by him on the Kaveri river was the largest reservoir in India at that time and for this, a tunnel of about 2.8 km long dug in the mountains was the first great construction in the field of Indian engineering. The Vrindavan Gardens adjacent to the Krishnasagar Dam was like a  worthwhile attempt to bring heaven to earth. From 1912 to 1916, he served as the 19th Diwan of the Mysore State, during which he proved that he was a successful engineer as well as an efficient administrator, dedicated social worker and an accomplished politician by executing several development works.

Dr. Visveshvaraiya not only contributed as a successful engineer in the state of Mysore, but also made a lot of efforts for the promotion of education. In 1913, he established the Agriculture School and in 1916 the College of Engineering. Along with Mysore and Mumbai, the history of grandeur and development of cities like Sangli, Baroda, Ahmednagar, Nagpur, Bhavnagar, Rajkot etc. is the result of Dr. Visveshvaraiya’s thinking and action. Due to his tireless efforts, the University of Mysore was established in the year 1916. Setting up the Bhadravati Steel Plant in Mysore had then become a challenge, as the economy of the project was questioned by the British consultants. But Dr. Visveshvaraiya got it completed by making it a matter of prestige and the steel produced from this plant was exported to advanced and developed countries like America.

After being parted away from the post of Dewan of Mysore, he held important positions such as officer, chairman and advisor in several government, semi-government and non-government establishments and organizations. He successfully discharged his administrative and political responsibilities as the head of the scholarship institution for the students of backward classes in 1916, as the chairman of the political committee of all-party representatives in 1922, as the director of the Tata Iron & Steel Company and as the president of the Indian Economic Conference in 1927,  and as the chairman of the Bangalore Riot Enquiry Committee in 1929. Impressed by his achievements, the then Nizam had taken his services for the reconstruction of Hyderabad city. He did many development works like protection from floods of Musi river in Hyderabad, sewerage, drinking water supply, road construction etc.

Dr. Visveshvaraiya’s suggestion was at the core of the protective measures to get rid of the scourge of the Koshi river in Bihar. The Dimna Nala Dam (1947) in the state of Bihar and the Hirakund dam in the state of Orissa are also a part of his plan. He traveled to America and Europe with the aim of opening a workshop for motor vehicles and aircraft in the country. Due to his invaluable and sincere services to the nation, Dr. Visvesvaraya was awarded the highest national title of “Bharat Ratna” by the Government of India in 1955. In 1961, on his birth centenary, the Government of India saluted the work of this great personality by issuing a special postage stamp in his honour. Dr. Visveshvaraiya also authored some well-known and popular books named “Reconstructing India”, “Planned Economy for India”, “Unemployment in India, its causes and cure” and “Memories of my working life” etc.

As a result of showing his charisma in every field of construction, he was honoured by the British Government with the distinction of “Compendium of the Indian Empire” in 1911 and “Knight Commander of the order of Indian Empire” in 1915 and lateron “Sir”.  Due to his extraordinary talent and acumen, he got C.I.A. certificate in 1911, D.M.C. by Kolkata University in 1913, K.C.I. in 1915, I.L.D. by Mumbai University in 1918, D.Lit. by Kashi Hindu Vishvavidalaya  in 1939. In 1944, Patna University has honored him with D.Sc. and many other degrees.

Dr. Mokshagundam Visveshvaraiya was rich in innate talent and was never afraid of hard work. This eccentric personality who nurtured “simple living high thoughts” never used government resources for personal gain. Not only was he praised openly for his role and contribution in the new construction of India, but he was also called the  “Vishwakarma of modern Bharat”. This immortal engineer, who scored a brilliant century of his life, breathed his last on 14 April 1962 and left this elusive world forever. The great personality and creativity of Dr. Mokshagundam Visveshvaraiya, the epitome of nation building, is now our eternal source of inspiration.

(Author is a technocrat & academician. The views expressed are personal opinion of the author. He can be reached at [email protected] )

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