M. Visweswarayya

(1861 -1962)
The engineers of India celebrate the Engineers’ Day every year on September 15. This date is the birthday of one of the greatest engineers of India, who is hailed as the Father of Planning in the country. Apart from being an engineer and planner, he was known as a very efficient administrator, an educationist, and an expert in industrial enterprises, and also a statesman. His name, Mokshagundam (M.) Visweswarayya. He had the rare distinction of being honored by the government of India on his 100th birthday (in 1961) by releasing a commemorative special postal stamp, while he was alive. He was also awarded the country’s highest civilian honor, the Bharat Ratna, in 1955.

Born to Sreenivasa Sastry and Venkachamma of Muddanahalli village in Kolar, Karnataka, Visweswarayya was a brilliant student and he stood first in both his bachelor’s degree and the degree in engineering. He took up a job first as an assistant engineer with the Public Works Department of Bombay Government. His efficiency and brilliance made him go up in the ladder and became the planner for the redesigning of Bombay, including its planning for roads and buildings and water supply and irrigations schemes. His services in these fields were well-recognized and rewarded. The Pune drainage scheme was his contribution. All this earned him the acquaintance with the greats of his time like Gandhiji, Gokhale, and Bal Gangadhar Tilak.  He was also able to visit Holland, England, Russia, and the USA and familiarize himself with the engineering techniques employed in various building constructions.

After he left Bombay, he was invited by the Nizam of Hyderabad to re-design the city of Hyderabad, with a view to insulating the city against the recurring floods and to provide a decent drainage system. He returned to his motherland Mysore where he was made the Dewan, the equivalent to the Prime Minister, of the state. He sat in that chair for six years from 1912 to 1918 within which period his insightful plans and planning for the city of Mysore and the state made it one of the most progressive and impressive provinces in India. The Krishnaraja Sagar Dam across the river Kaveri and the magnificent Vrindavan Gardens there stand witness and proof of the engineering genius of Visweswarayya. The dam was the largest in India during those days. As Dewan he elevated the status of the Kingdom of Mysore as one of the best administered places in India. He established in Mysore the first ever university in any princely state in India. He also founded the large public libraries in Mysore and Bangalore, the Bank of Mysore, the Steel factory of Bhadravati, and several other industrial establishments and hospitals.  Note it, that it all happened before 1920. It was he who ordered to set up the first ever educational scholarships to the non-Brahmin backward students. After a world tour, he wrote out a book – The Reconstruction of India. He had a national vision and the ability to realize what he visualized. He took the initiative to set up the Indian Institute of Sciences and the Hindustan Aeronautics (which was Hindustan Aircraft Factory in the beginning), two prestigious establishments in Bangalore. He also went to Orissa to plan for the controlling of the floods in the river Mahanadi, but constructing dams across it.

Visweswarayya had to play more that the role of an engineer, planner and administrator in an India which was boiling up in the cauldron of its freedom struggle. The (British) government convened an all-party meeting to explore the possibilities for a compromise between Gandhi, the leader of the civil disobedience movement, and the government. Visweshwarayya was asked to preside over the proceedings of the meeting. That was in 1921. When there was a meeting of the representatives of the princely states of India in Trivandrum in 1929 Visweswarayya was the unanimous choice for presiding over the proceedings. His leadership was acknowledged repeatedly in various national fora. He was the president of the Luknow session of the Indian Science Congress in 1923 and the Indian Economic Conference held in Bombay in 1924.  He also served in various governmental and private companies as the chairman/member of director boards, especially for the Steel sector.

He was a leader extra-ordinary, a professional planner of great vision and efficiency and administrator non-pareil.