Biggest Blackout Ever Leaves 600 Million in India in the Dark


indiaIndia’s blackout spread to cover more than half the country today, as the electrical grid collapsed in 14 states in the country’s north and east, depriving at least 600 million people of power, many for a second day.

More than 500 trains came to a halt, and thousands of passengers were briefly trapped inside the capital’s Metro line. There was gridlock on many streets of the capital as traffic lights stopped working. Bank ATMs also failed.

But airports and major industries were unaffected, switching to backup generators in a country used to power outages.

Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said the government had not yet not been able to detect the reason for the grid breakdown.

“Alternative arrangements like hydel power have been made,” he told television reporters. “We still have to wait for some time.”

Earlier on Tuesday, a senior power official in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, Avinash Awasthi, was transferred for failing to prevent Monday’s blackout. But officials said the main problem was that some northern states like Punjab and Haryana were regularly withdrawing too much power from the northern grid.

“We are absolutely clueless why this has happened again today,” Shakti Sinha, principal secretary in the power department of the Delhi government, said in a telephone interview. “Yesterday we knew it was overdrawing of power, today it looks like a technical fault,” he said. “The system failed somewhere.”

Sinha said New Delhi and other states covered by the affected grids received power from the western grid Tuesday and managed to supply emergency power to hospitals and the Metro line in the capital city sooner than they did on Monday – “in less than an hour.”

In an editorial, the Hindustan Times, blamed populist politics for the mess. “India’s basic energy shortage is compounded by the policy of selling electricity to consumers at politically correct prices,” it wrote. “The government-owned distribution monopolies in the states have all but lost their ability to buy power because their political bosses force them to sell it cheap, sometimes free, to voters.”

People vented their frustrations on Twitter and Facebook.

“What we really need in the North is a power greed failure!” tweeted Meera Damji. “Why doesn’t this Government give out hurricane lamps since they can barely ensure electricity!!!!” wrote Suhel Seth.

Indian industry leaders blamed the incident on a large and growing gap between electricity demand and supply, something that the government has failed to tackle despite repeated pledges to do so. Some senior government officials say reform of the power sector is the greatest challenge facing Asia’s third-largest economy in the next few years.

“One of the major reasons for the collapse of the power grid is the major gap between demand and supply,” said Rajiv Kumar, secretary general of the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry. “There is an urgent need to reform the power sector and bring about infrastructural improvements to meet the new challenges of the growing economy.”

India suffers a power deficit in peak periods of 8 to 12 percent, and power cuts of eight hours a day are common in many parts of the country.

Middle-class residents of New Delhi complained of waking up Monday morning drenched in sweat as fans and air conditioners failed, but others would not have noticed the difference – about 300 million Indians, or a quarter of the population, have no access to electricity at all.

India has the world’s fifth-largest reserves of coal, but the country’s wrangles over environmental and land clearances, as well as its failure to invest in mines and technology, have prevented output from growing and keeping up with demand.

Losses in electricity transmission and distribution are also among the world’s highest, 24 to 40 percent, because of inefficiencies and theft.


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