Born in a middle-class Brahmin family at Kankipadu in Krishna district of Andhra Pradesh, Dr. Rao lost his father, a village attorney, when he was only nine years old. He lost vision in one eye due to an injury he sustained while playing in school. The setback, however, did not deter him from completing his education and achieving great heights in public life.
Dr. Rao studied Intermediate at Presidency College in what was then known as Madras and earned his B.E. degree from Madras University. In fact, he was the first student from the varsity to obtain a Master’s Degree in engineering. In 1939, he took his Ph.D. from University of Birmingham, UK. After completing his education, Dr. Rao worked as a professor in Rangoon (now Yangon), the capital of Myanmar as well as assistant professor in the UK. He also wrote a book called Structural Engineering and Reinforced Concrete. By the time he returned to India, Dr. Rao’s engineering career had taken off. He worked as a design engineer for the then Madras government and was Director (Designs) in Vidyut Commission, New Delhi. In 1954, he was promoted as chief engineer. He was also president of the Irrigation and Central Board and as president of All India Engineers Association. He was awarded doctorates, in science by Andhra University in 1960 and in engineering by Roorkee University in 1968.
Dr. Kanuri Lakshmana Rao was also associated with politics, having been elected thrice as Member of Parliament from Vijayawada constituency. In July 1963, he was sworn in as Minister for Irrigation and Electricity in the Union cabinet. It was as Union Minister for Water Resources that he made his mark: designing irrigation and hydropower projects and being the first to do a complete survey and propose the linking of rivers in India, which is now being implemented.
Little wonder Dr. Kanuri Lakshmana Rao is today known as the Father of India’s Water Management and Agriculture.