Modern Indian History-Events and Personalities

M Visvesvaraya: India’s pioneering Civil Engineer


From UPSC perspective, the following things are important :

Prelims level: M Visvesvaraya

Mains level: NA


Central Idea

  • September 15 marks the birthday of Sir Mokshagundam Visvesvaraya (1861-1962), celebrated for his pivotal role as a civil engineer and administrator during colonial India.

About M. Visvesvaraya

  • Early life: Born on September 15, 1861, in the village of Muddenahalli, Karnataka, Visvesvaraya commenced his educational journey in his hometown.
  • Academic Pursuits: He pursued a Bachelor of Arts degree at the University of Madras and later embarked on a diploma course in civil engineering at the College of Science in Pune.

Career Achievements

  • Engineering Pioneer: After completing his engineering studies at Poona College of Science, Visvesvaraya commenced his career as an Assistant Engineer in the Public Works Department (PWD) of the Government of Bombay at the age of 22.
  • Notable Projects: Among his initial projects was the construction of a pipe syphon across one of Panjra river’s channels.
  • Dewan of Mysore: In 1909, he assumed the role of Chief Engineer in the Mysore service, eventually becoming the 19th Dewan of Mysore.
  • Voluntary Retirement: In 1918, Visvesvaraya took voluntary retirement due to his disagreement with the proposal to allocate state jobs based on caste.
  • Committees and Contributions: Following retirement, he chaired or participated in various committees, including the Bombay Technical and Industrial Education Committee, Bombay University Committee for Promoting Chemical Industries, and the Cauvery Canal Committee.

Significant Works

  • Block System of Irrigation: In 1899, he introduced the block system of irrigation in the Deccan canals, enhancing the equitable distribution of irrigation benefits among numerous villages.
  • Water Quality Improvement: Visvesvaraya tackled the issue of “muddy and discolored” water in Sukkur, a city on the banks of the Indus River.
  • Invention of Automatic Gates: He invented automatic gates for regulating water flow in reservoirs, securing a patent for this innovation.
  • Implementation at Krishnaraja Sagar Dam: The Krishnaraja Sagar Dam in Karnataka became the first to adopt these gates in the 1920s.

Global Perspective

  • International Learning: Visvesvaraya travelled abroad to study various aspects of other countries’ systems. During a visit to Italy, he examined soil erosion problems and irrigation and drainage works.
  • Advocating for Indian Contributions: He challenged the perception that only British officers were capable of overseeing advanced engineering works, emphasizing that Indian expertise was valuable when supported by qualifications and dedication.

Vision for Progress

  • Inspirational Speech: In a speech delivered on March 16, 1912, at Central College Bangalore, Visvesvaraya emphasized the need for India to adopt modern practices, scientific precision, inventiveness, discipline, and economic fundamentals for progress.
  • Promoting Self-Examination: He encouraged a secular self-examination, comparing local conditions in India with global counterparts.
  • Authorship: Visvesvaraya authored two influential books, “Reconstructing India” (1920) and “Planned Economy of India” (1934).

Impact on Education

  • Education as a Catalyst: Visvesvaraya recognized the critical role of education in shaping an economy during his visit to Japan in 1898.
  • Founding the University of Mysore: As the Dewan of Mysore in 1916, he played a pivotal role in establishing the University of Mysore, emphasizing that educational institutions should mirror real-life conditions.

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