Sir mv
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  • 1. Sir M. Visvesvaraya (1860-1962) Bharata Ratna Sir M. Visvesvaraya, was without doubt one of the most influential makers of modern India. He was a rare combination of intellect, integrity, discipline, culture and vision – who will continue to inspire young professionals, centuries after his time. His beginnings were humble – he was born in 1861 to a Sanskrit scholar Srinivasa Sastry and his wife Venkachamma in Chikkaballapur. After completing his early education in Chikkaballapur, he came to Bangalore for higher education. This period was fraught with hardship as he lost his father at the age of 15. Finances were strained, and there was a time when his mother failed to dispatch the fees money in time for an exam. The young Visvesvaraya showed his resilience when he walked 55 kilometers to his hometown and somehow managed to get enough money. He then worked as a tutor to earn his way through college. The Engineer On completing his BA in Central College, Bangalore, he moved to Pune to obtain an engineering degree from the College of Science (Now Government College of Engineering). He emerged in 1883 ranked first in L.C.E (equivalent to today’s BE degree) and went on to become one of the finest Civil Engineers of his time. He devised innovative techniques that were well ahead of his time. One of his earliest contributions was the Block System of Irrigation – designed to optimize, control and evenly distribute water supply to agricultural lands over a large number of villages. The supply was rotated within “blocks” in each village to curtail misuse and water- logging. This system, devised in 1899, is still used in Deccan Canals.
  • 2. Sir M Visvesvaraya, during early days Another early innovation was the collector well that he implemented in Sukkur in Sindh province (present day Pakistan). The project had multiple challenges – the area was hot and arid, and they had to manage with minimum funding. An initial plan to pump water from river Sindhu to a hill nearby, filter it and supply the water to the town through pipes had been adopted by the municipality. However they did not have enough money for the filters. Visveswaraya solved this ingeniously by digging wells in the river bed itself close to the river bank to obtain spring water through percolation. Thus filtering was achieved without having to install filters. To increase the supply of water, a tunnel was driven from the bottom of the well under the flowing river. This was a technique rarely seen in those days, but is now standard textbook material under the heading “Collector Wells”. In the service of Bombay Presidency (1884)
  • 3. Most notably, he designed and later patented the Automated Floodgates, which permit flood water to enter a reservoir without the water level exceeding the full reservoir level, thereby reducing the risk of submerging surrounding land. The gates are automatic because they open and close at the rise and fall of water in the reservoir. This was the first time that thought was given to using reservoirs for flood control, not just irrigation and power generation. Visvesvaraya used 48 cast iron automated gates at the Krishnarjasagar Dam, incidentally manufactured at the Bhadravathi Iron and Steel Works, a factory that he established. As Chief Engineer of Mysore State (1909-12) Having established his credentials as the ablest of engineers, he went on to design water supply schemes for a number of towns in Bombay Presidency, Hyderabad and later as Chief Engineer of Mysore State. The Statesman When it came to large scale engineering projects, Sir MV was known to think beyond engineering. He would take up these projects only if he was convinced that it was feasible economically, and that it served a social purpose. As Dewan of Mysore State, he was instrumental in galvanizing the state into progress. He established a number of rural industries and set up basic education for small shop owners in the fields of book- keeping and commerce. Agricultural schools were opened to help with modern agricultural practices that reduced farmers’ overdependence on rain and good luck. A number of industrial workshops and training institutes were set up. Public libraries were established. The Kannada Sahitya Parishat was formed, and many books on science were published in Kannada. The University College of Engineering (now known as University Visvesvaraya College of Engineering) and Maharani’s College for Women
  • 4. came into being. In fact, he established the Mysore University, as until then, all the colleges in Mysore State were under the Madras University. Interestingly, he had a tough fight on his hands to achieve this. His clinching argument was – “If Australia and Canada could have universities of their own for a population of less than a million, cannot Mysore with a population of not less than 6 million have a University of its own?” With Pandit Nehru (1955) Pandit Nehru was well aware of Visvesvaraya’s extraordinary abilities both as engineer and statesman. In fact, economist Vinod Vyasulu highlights the legacy that Nehru inherited from Visvesvaraya, comparing his achievements in the princely state of Mysore to those of Nehru on a larger canvas fifty years later. Nehru had keenly read Visvesvaraya’s proposals for nation building that the latter had submitted to the Congress members of Bombay legislature in 1936. As President of the Indian Economic Association, and member of the Planning Commission, Visvesvaraya’s abilities were utilized towards nation building. He presided over the first session of the Indian Science Congress in 1923, and the Indian Economic Conference a year later. His 1934 book, “Planned Economy for India” talks about the importance of estimating national income and achieving a society with a minimum level education, healthcare and opportunities for productive work. And he saw Industrialization as a means to achieve this. The Visionary
  • 5. Our country is such a bundle of contradictions that it is perhaps fitting that Gandhi and Visvesvaraya, two of the most profound builders of Modern India had such conflicting views on modernization, while holding each other in the highest regard. While Gandhi’s motto was “Industrialize and Perish”, Visvesvaraya’s was – “Industrialize or Perish”. In a letter to Visveswaraya in the 1930’s, Gandhi wrote, “In spite of the strength of my conviction, I have great regard for your fine abilities and love for the country and that shall be unabated whether I have the good fortune to secure your cooperation or face your honest opposition... I see that we hold perhaps diametrically opposite views. My conviction based upon extensive experiences of village life is that in India, at any rate for generations to come, we shall not be able to make much use of mechanical power for solving the problem of the ever growing poverty of the masses.” To which Visvesvaraya replied, “You say we hold perhaps diametrically opposite views. You are for developing village industries and I favour both heavy industries and village industries. To the extent that you propose to advance village industries, I am at one with you. I can never persuade myself to take up a hostile attitude towards any constructive work, from any quarter, least of all towards work attempted by one with your brilliant historic achievements in public life... I am in favour of heavy industries because heavy industries will save the money that is going out of the country in large sums every year; heavy industries are required to provide the local manufactures of machinery and equipment required by our railways and for defence forces and heavy industries are required also for supplying machinery and tools for the village industries themselves. I recommend more extended use of mechanical power because it produces results for the country much more rapidly than human power. The object is to get food and commodities required by our people for a decent standard of living as speedily as possible ..." To this end, he established the Bhadravati Iron and Steel Works, The Sandal Oil Factory, the Soap Factory, the Metals Factory, the Chrome Tanning Factory. He was also associated with the Tata Group of companies, helping them in the management Tata Iron and Steel Company (TISCO). He stared the Bank of Mysore (Now State Bank of Mysore) and The Mysore Chamber of Commerce. He provided a list of 36 industries to be established in the country in industrial engineering and applied chemistry. A very noteworthy aspect of Sir MV’s professional dedication is that he would go to great lengths to gain firsthand knowledge. In 1925, when the Bhadravati Iron factory was in danger of being shut down due to dismal performance, he toured Sweden, England, America and Germany, most times at his own cost, to understand the iron manufacturing process firsthand. He used the knowledge to modernize the plant,
  • 6. reorganize departments, and make their heads accountable. This led to steady improvement in output and profits, and soon the Works became a national asset. Legend has it that when on tour on official business, Sir MV carried a set of candles bought with his personal money, and used them for personal work like reading etc in the night after he was finished with official work. This may or may not be true, but it indicates the high reputation he had for personal integrity. This is a very brief glimpse into the life and works of this extraordinary man. There are innumerable other ways in which he has shaped modern industrialized India, and no “profile” can fully chronicle the far reaching and lasting nature of his contributions. At the end of this reading if one is left with the feeling, “Wow, One man did all this?”, then the chronicler’s mission is accomplished. As a tribute to his genius, not only as an engineer but as an administrator, statesman and planner, the Institution of Engineers (India) celebrates 15th September, his birthday, every year as Engineers Day. The Mysore centre of the Institution has even a “Navaratri” approach to the celebration by sponsoring technical lectures and other programmes over nine days leading up to his birthday. Author: Veena R Prasad (UVCE, Computer Science '98)