Source: Indian Statesmen, 1st ed (Madras: G.A Natesan & Co., 1927), 176
Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya was born in 1861 to a native Brahmin family of Chikballapur. As a student, he was selected as a State scholar to be instructed in engineering by Rangacharlu. Visvesvaraya went on to top his examinations in the Engineering College at Poona, paving the way for his immediate appointment as Assistant Engineer in Bombay in 1884.
Over the course of the next twenty-five years, he worked tirelessly in various professional capacities across Western India. Between 1901 and 1903, Visvesvaraya designed and built a system of automatic gates at Lake Fife which served as a storage reservoir for the Moota Canal and a source of water supply to Poona. In 1903, he came up with a new scheme of irrigation, “the Block System of Irrigation” to respond to the needs of irrigation in the Deccan. The scheme was later introduced into the Mysore State and won the approval of the Indian Irrigation Commission for its efficiency in reclaiming lands recently brought under irrigation. These designs began to bring renown to Visvesvaraya and various important positions were subsequently bestowed upon him.
Besides being appointed the Executive Engineer and the Sanitary Engineer to the Government of Bombay, he served as one of three representatives of the Bombay Government to the Simla Irrigation Conference in 1904. In 1905, he was on special duty in the Public Works Department Secretariat, in association with irrigation projects. He later became the Superintending Engineer and was dispatched to Aden in 1906 to advise the Executive Committee of the Aden Settlement on sanitary matters. His achievements were acknowledged with the conferring of the K.I.H medal. Although he later returned to Bombay as Offg. Sanitary Engineer to the Government, he left again two years later on a world tour in 1908.
While on tour in America, he was called to serve as Special Consulting Engineer to the Government of H. H. The Nizam of Hyderabad where the disastrous floods of the Musi prompted urgent preventative measures. Visvesvaraya joined the Hyderabad Service in April 1909 and came up with a comprehensive scheme for flood protection, reservoir works, and a drainage scheme for Hyderabad in six months while preparing a report on the drainage of the Secunderabad Cantonment. He left this post and the service of the Bombay Government in October 1909.
In November 1909, with a desire to devote the best of his abilities to his own State, he entered the Mysore Service as Chief Engineer at the invitation of the Maharaja. Upon his entry, he was promptly faced with two arduous tasks – the slip in the Ramasagara tankbund and the restoration of the breach at Krishnarajkatte. He enthusiastically drafted suitable designs and ensured that all work could be completed in a timely fashion. Visvesvaraya was also closely involved in the Cauvery Reservoir Project, and worked tenaciously to earn the sanction of the Government of India. He also dedicated himself to inaugurating a railway programme and establishing a railway construction department.
Immediately following his term of office as Chief Engineer, he was appointed the Dewan of Mysore on 10th November 1912 and proceeded to work on a wide range of improvements for the state. Listed among his accomplishments were the establishment of public libraries, the expansion of the legislative council, and the implementation of a village reconstruction programme. He was also the President of the Mysore Economic conference, a novel institution that brought together officials and non-officials.
The topic of education also occupied Visvesvaraya’s interest. He believed in the ability of education to improve the country. He was involved in the establishment of the Mysore University and several engineering schools in Mysore and Bangalore. Through his proposal for the village reconstruction project, he further insisted on providing an access to education for at least 10 per cent of the population.
Though he retired in 1919, his enthusiasm for reinventing India did not dwindle. Instead, he left on another tour of the world to learn about new measures which could be implemented in India. This led to his recommending several schemes based on what he had seen during his travels. Inspired by the “Americanization” he observed, he advocated for a similar scheme of “Indianization” to be adopted. Drawing lessons from Japan and America, he further exhorted that the country’s resources ought to be developed. He believed that India’s poverty could be attributed to her undeveloped resources, along with the problems of an untrained population and a dearth of elementary education.
He also put great store by the application of science to industries. As President of the Indian Science Congress in 1923, he called for greater co-operation among scientific bodies and the inauguration of a single authoritative Indian publication for each science.
Aside from his interest in administrative and industrial reform, he was also acutely aware of the importance of social reform. Visvesvaraya’s proposed model of social reform lay in tailoring measures according to prevailing modern circumstances. Convinced that social and political progress shared a symbiotic relationship, he held that healthy social conditions were key to social well being and that it was the state’s duty to provide them. Though he cautioned against the creation of slums in urban areas, he strongly dismissed the idea that slums and the civilized urban life could not be separated. Among some of his proposals for social reform were a high standard of sanitation and civic utilities, the education of women and the need to instill social discipline, which he thought would stem chiefly from the development of the co-operative movement.
Source: Indian Statesmen, 1st ed (Madras: G.A Natesan & Co., 1927), 161-192
Speeches by Sir M. Visvesvaraya: 1910-11 to 1916-17 (Bangalore: Printed at the Government Press, 1917)
Reconstructing India (London: P.S. King & Son, 1920)
Nation Building: A Five-Year Plan for the Provinces (Banglore: The Bangalore Press, 1937)
Memoirs of My Working Life (Bangalore: Visvesvaraya, 1951)