Saturday, January 1, 2000

Visvesvaraya- the Hyderabad Connection

Visvesvaraya- the Hyderabad Connection
By Narendra Luther

Mokshagundam Visvesaraya was one of those rare persons who dazzle the world by their versatility, vision and integrity. From the Sindh river (now in Pakistan) in the west to the Mahanadi river in the east; from the Ganga in the north to the Kaveri in the south he tapped many a river to quench human thirst, to irrigate parched tracts of land, and to supply energy to homes and to industries. From Aden to Hyderabad, he left the imprint of his giant strides in urban planning and renewal.

Born in 1962 to a Telugu family settled in Mysore, he lost his father at an early age and was brought up by an uncle. A topper in the University, he joined as an engineer in the Bombay Presidency. His technical knowledge, innovativeness, dedication and integrity were recognized and he earned out-of-turn promotions even over Europeans. However, realizing that he wouldn’t become chief engineer – a post reserved for the British -- he resigned two years before he was due to retire and proceeded to Europe for a tour.

The Musi Flood of 1908:
Meanwhile Hyderabad had its worst flood in history in 1908.
It occurred on Monday, the 28th September and was caused by a cyclonic storm in the Bay of Bengal. A cloud-burst developed at mid-night over an extensive area. Rain descended in sheets flooding small tanks and overburdening their weirs. Resultantly, 221 of the 788 tanks in the catchment area breached. In one day the rainfall recorded was 32.5 centimeters, which was more than double the maximum ever recorded earlier.

The flood rose about 16 feet in less than three-and-a-half hours. All the four bridges were over-topped and their parapet walls were carried away. The approaches to the oldest bridge, the Purana Pul were damaged but the bridge itself did not suffer any damage. The newest, that is, the Afzal Bridge suffered most.

More than two-and-a-half square kilometers of thickly populated area were devastated on the north bank and about half of that on the south bank. Nearly, 19,000 houses collapsed and about 80,000 people, roughly one quarter of the entire population of the city, were left homeless. About 15,000 lives were lost and property worth 3 crore rupees was destroyed.

The Nizam’s Gesture
An interesting sidelight of the tragedy was that the sixth Nizam, Mir Mehboob Ali Khan willingly performed the arti of goddess Bhawani to placate her since she was believed to have caused the flood. He also threw open his palaces to the victims and official feeding was organized for them.

Against the British move to send an English expert, it was decided to seek Visvesvarya’s advice on measures to prevent the recurrence of such a tragedy. A cable was sent to him in Italy to return to India.

He came on two conditions -- that he would be paid the same salary as an Englishman, and that he would be given full freedom to employ anyone he liked. Those conceded, he got down to the job with his customary thoroughness. He collected the data of rainfall in the neighbouring Bombay and Madras provinces and studied the figures of heavy rainfall in different parts of the world.

Visvesvaraya stayed in Hyderabad only seven months – one of the briefest stays anywhere.

Osman Sagar & Himayat Sagar

He submitted his report on 1st October 1909. In it he recommended permanent flood prevention works which included the bunding of the river. He also suggested the establishment of a City Improvement Board and recommended an allocation of 2 million rupees per year for the next six years for flood prevention and city improvement works. It was the first time since the founding of the city in 1591 that any scheme of urban renewal was undertaken. Most of the city walls were damaged in the floods were not reconstructed. Hyderabad, therefore, ceased to be a walled city and emerged into the open. The area between the Char Minar and the Musi was reconstructed. A wide bazar was planned and one can see the contrast, which the Pathargatti Bazar offers to the narrow 16th-century Lad Bazar standing perpendicular to it. A City Improvement Board was established in 1912 and that inaugurated the era of modern town planning.

From Hyderabad, Visvesvaraya went to Mysore where he was appointed chief engineer. After three years as chief engineer, he became the Dewan of Mysore and served the State in that capacity for six years – till 1918.

Reforms in Mysore

As Dewan he inaugurated an era of reforms and all-round development in Mysore. He established the Mysore University, the first in any Indian state, and the Mysore State Bank. He constructed the Krishnaraja Sagar dam -- then biggest in India. He initiated the scheme of free and compulsory primary education in 68 centres with the aim of doubling the number in five years. He advocated the concept of five-year planning with the objective of doubling the national income every decade. For India to progress, he suggested reduced dependence on agriculture and advocated industrialization of the country. To that end he prepared a scheme for the establishment of an automobile factory. The British thwarted this proposal. He protested. The aircraft industry in Bangalore owes its existence to his proposal. He organized the first Economic Conference in 1911, which became an annual feature thereafter. His crusade for development suffered a setback when he had to resign in 1918 due to differences with the Maharaja.

However, that did not end his career; on the other hand, it only expanded it. Now the whole country began to call upon his services from time to time. And he responded – without any fees or honorarium.

Visvesvarayya and Gandhi:
He differed with Mahatma Gandhi on the question of industrialization. He also advised the Mahatma to wear a better dress than his langoti. That led Rajaji to quip that tVisveswarayya’s clothes were so well ironed that one couldn’t say whether they were ironed before or after he got into them!

‘A Rough Guide to Wants’:

In 1930 submitted a comprehensive city development plan for Hyderabad. It covered an area of about 2/3rd of the present area of the Municipal Corporation. Unfamiliar with the latter-day jargon of town planners, he called it ‘ a rough guide to the wants that should be provided for’.

That report ushered in an era of comprehensive urban planning for the city. His ‘rough guide’ can be considered a precursor of the Master Plan of Hyderabad promulgated in 1975. It is interesting to note that most of the features of the statutory Master Plan and some of the schemes of the Mega City were forestalled by Visvesvaraya more than 60 years ago -- including ring roads, zoning plans and even the circular railway and the ‘necklace road’ around Hussain Sagar, though he did not used that term.

Salar Jung I modernized the administration of Hyderabad in the 19th Century. He was, however, not allowed even to blacktop the roads inside the walled city because of Nizam’s fear that it would facilitate the entry of the British into the city. It therefore fell to Visvesvaraya’s lot to herald the era of urban planning at the beginning of the 20th Century. Any one interested in the problems of the city can not but marvel at the insights and the farsight that he brought to bear upon his proposals to improve the prevailing urban situation. His signal contributions in various fields serve to underline the point that one doesn’t have to be an ‘expert’ to devise solutions to human problems.

India’s highest civilian honour, ‘Bharat Ratna’ was conferred upon him in 1955. It is one of the few instances in which the honour was fully deserved.

Loaded with honours, Visvsvesaraya lived to cross the Vedic span of 100 years. He died in 1962 at the age of 102. Very few people can boast of so much achievement and more fulfilled life.

Freedom from the cycle of birth and death is the ultimate aim of every Hindu. Once when Visvesavaya was asked if he would like to be reborn, he replied: “Yes, with pleasure”.

The pleasure would indeed be of the country and the community in which he is reborn. For, according, to the theory of rebirth, he would start from the level at which he left off in his previous birth.

It is not given to us to know when and where he would take his new birth. It doesn’t seem to have happened so far. Not in India at least!

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reshma M said...
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