A distinguished life during silken times

weaving together

A distinguished life during silken times

It was the year 1916 when the young Sericulture Department of the Mysore Government witnessed yet another notable arrival. It was for the first time that a distinguished administrator from the Mysore Civil Services (MCS) cadre - Navarathna Rama Rao was posted as Superintendent to the Department. A noted and able administrator, his approach was systemic and organised.

Born in a scholarly family of Mysore on May 27, 1877, Rama Rao was raised by his maternal uncle as he had lost his mother when he was a child. Student life for him was not easy. Though he was the blue-eyed boy of Prof Tait - a British gentleman in the Central College, who taught English and History, Rama Rao never accepted the financial assistance that was generously offered by his Professor.

After passing his BA and BL Degrees, he qualified in the Mysore Civil Services Examination and started his administrative career as an amildar. In 1911, an economic conference was organised under the chairmanship of Sir M Visvesvaraya to commemorate the birthday celebration of the then Maharaja of Mysore Nalwadi Krishnaraja Wadiyar.

The main intention of the conference was to plan systematic efforts for the overall development of Mysore State. Sir MV was of the opinion that agriculture and industrialisation should go hand in hand. He wanted sericulture to be practiced on scientific lines. Soon, this upright MCS Officer of exceptional ability was picked by Sir MV as Secretary to the Agricultural Committee.

In 1916, Rama Rao was appointed as the Superintendent of the Sericulture Department in Mysore. Washington Mari was the Director of Sericulture at the time. He had been following the Italian method of rearing and seed production. Rama Rao was keen on popularising the use of Disease Free Layings (dfls) among the sericulturists. But Washington was not in favour of this as he thought it was premature to take such a decision.

But Rama Rao was able to convince the Government not only about the urgent need to popularise the dfls among  sericulturists, but also regarding the necessity of organising demonstrations on the rational methods of breeding through the proposed popular sericultural farms. The Government accepted both the recommendations and advised him to implement them simultaneously.

After Washington’s departure, Rama Rao became the Head of the Sericulture Department. For the first time, thecellular method of seed preparation developed by Louis Pasteur was introduced. The cross-breeding programmes introduced by him received such a hearty welcome that by 1939-40, 90 per cent of the layings produced were cross-breeds.

War and the silk boom
After 1922, the Indian silk industry suffered a severe setback mainly because of the dumping of silk from Japan and China. But the Second World War turned things around and suddenly there was a great demand for silk. The luck descended in the form of parachutes. It was because the Allies badly needed silk for parachutes and India was the only country in the Allies camp that could fulfill this requirement.
The Indian Government organised a silk conference in Delhi in 1942 to initiate a mighty drive to boost the silk production under the Filature Expansion Scheme. As a result, the mulberry growth area in Mysore state rose from 26,500 in 1937 acres to 80,000 acres in 1948. The number of filature basins in Mysore and Madras states rose to 2013 in 1944-45 from a mere 300 in 1939-40.

The production of filature of raw silk rose from 5,000 pounds in 1937 to about three lakh pounds in 1945. But with the cessation of the war in 1945, this boom crashed abruptly. The industry started to see a slump once again. Added to it, Italian silk was dumped in the market, which worsened the situation.

In 1930, as advisor to the then Diwan, Sir Mirza Ismail, he attended the first Round Table Conference in London. During 1931-32, there was a depression in the Indian silk industry. Based on Rama Rao’s report, a Tariff Board was constituted. It suggested measures to protect the industry by fixing the tariff on the imported silk.
As a result of Rama Rao’s efforts, the Government of India constituted a silk panel on March 8, 1945, under his chairmanship to study and suggest the remedial measures for this problem. In 1948, independent India accepted the recommendations of the panel and enacted the Central Silk Board (CSB) Act.

In April 1949, the CSB was set up. It was a milestone in the development of Indian silk industry. Rama Rao along with Ranganatha Rao, the then Director of Industries and Commerce was instrumental in the establishment of the Government Silk Weaving Factory in Mysore.

The other side
Rama Rao was a multi-faceted person. In addition to his administrative abilities, he had many other talents too. He was a  popular writer, critic and translator. His short stories in Kannada are popular even today. An authority on Shakespeare and Western literature, he was well-versed in English, Kannada, Sanskrit and French. C Rajagopalachari’s Ramayana and Mahabharata were revised by Rama Rao.  Along with Japanese expert Yonemura M, he wrote Handbook of Practical Sericulture. After his retirement, Rao floated a joint stock filature called Mysore Filature limited.

His services in different capacities in the Revenue Department, as Development Commissioner, Director of Commerce and Industries Department, Chairman of Central Co-operative Bank, Head of the Department of Sericulture, Chairman of Chamber of Commerce, Vice-chairman of Central Silk Board, founder member and President of Mysore Silk Association etc were highly appreciated.

In recognition of his public service, he was conferred the title Rajaseva prasakta by the then Maharaja of Mysore, Sri Jayachamarajendra Wadiyar. He breathed his last in the year 1960, when he was still the President of Mysore Silk Association. Thus came to an end an eventful life in the era of silk.

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