Nowadays, Engineering mostly means time-pass in college, and every second person is an Engineer! But there was a time when Science and Technology was not omnipresent (especially in India) and the few people who studied Engineering were passionate about the advancement of society. One such Eminent Engineer from India was M. Visvesvaraya.
He was born on 28th October, 1860, in Muttehalli, 40 KM from Bangalore, Karnataka. He was the first rank holder in both High School and in College. Since Visvesvaraya was not from a well-to-do family, he taught tutions to other kids while he was still studying and had to walk for 16 KM daily for that! He was able to do LCE (Engineering) from Pune University because the Mysore Kingdom sponsored his education.
Since he came first in College too, he was placed immediately in Public Works Department in Nasik. He executed many challenging flood relief projects, water supply projects, construction and maintenance projects, etc. successfully, and he got his first promotion just 21 months after joining. He designed a system called ‘Automatic weir floodgates’ for which he was awarded a patent. But he refused to take royalty because he did it for his job.
Even though Visvesvaraya had all the qualifications and experience to become the Head Engineer, he was not appointed to the position as it was offered only to British Engineers those days. So he resigned from his job and went for an educational foreign trip. In no time, the Nizam Government in Hyderabad appointed him as a Consultant. He was responsible for planning and construction of two dams on Moosa and Eesa rivers that not only prevented flooding of Hyderabad city, but also supplies drinking water to the twin cities even today.
Visvesvaraya was requested to serve his home State (Mysore) shortly afterwards and he was pivotal in setting up KrishnaRaja Sagar Dam across Cauvery river, which had the highest water catchment area in Asia, then. Recognizing his efforts, the Mysore Kingdom appointed him as the Diwan (equivalent to Chief Minister).
Once he became Diwan, among others, he initiated the establishment of two technical colleges and created the Mysore University. Even after he resigned from his official duties, he continued contributing to the development of the economy. He believed that development of India was dependent on the development of technology and manufacturing within the country.
Even in 1952, at the age of 92, on the request of PM Jawaharlal Nehru and Home Minister Gopalaswamy Iyengar, Visvesvaraya agreed to head a committee to determine the best location to construct a dam on Ganga river which was contested by three states. He personally traveled across the river (by air) to survey even at that age!
If you travel to Karnataka, you’ll find a number of organizations and educational institutions named after him. The British Government awarded him the Knight Commander of the Order of Indian Empire (KCIE), and the Indian Government awarded him the Bharat Ratna. He died in 1962 at the age of 102. He is first among the eminent Engineers India ever had/will ever have.
References: Wikipedia article on M. Visvesvaraya; “Nattukku Uzahitha Nallavar: Visvesvaraya”, Palaniappa Brothers Publications (in Tamil).