Massive blackout leaves 620 million in India without power
Published Tuesday, July 31, 2012 6:42AM EDT
Last Updated Tuesday, July 31, 2012 10:47PM EDT
India's power outage spread to more than half the country Tuesday, making it one of the world's largest ever blackouts.
More than 620 million people have been affected by the outages. That’s more than the combined populations of Canada, the U.S., and Mexico.
The collapse of the northern power grid, followed by the eastern grid shortly after and then the northeastern grid, came one day after a similar, but smaller power failure knocked out electricity to about 300 million in India.
Many workplaces and cities were hit hard by the blackouts. Hundreds of trains stalled and traffic lights went out in New Delhi, leading to transit chaos.
Air conditioning units across much of the hot, dry country stopped working. So did computers that allow many in India to work. Some major city hospitals and office buildings had to fire up diesel generators to get things moving again.
In West Bengal, around 200 coal miners were trapped underground when their elevators stopped operating. Emergency workers rushed to power up generators to rescue them from the darkness.
And yet, many living in the affected areas might barely have noticed the outages. About one-third of India's households do not have even enough electricity to power a light bulb, according to last year's census.
"The blackout might have been huge, but it wasn't unbearably long," Satish, the owner of a coffee and juice shop in central Delhi, told The Associated Press. "It was just as bad as any other five-hour power cut. We just used a generator while the light was out, and it was work as usual."
By early evening, services had been restored to New Delhi, which got the city’s metro system running again, as well as to the northeast. While parts of the northern and eastern grids were also back online late, officials said they would likely not get power fully restored until Wednesday.
The outages coming one day apart have raised serious concerns about India's vastly outdated infrastructure, which has failed to keep up with demand as the country’s huge appetite for energy has grown in recent years.
After Monday’s outage on its northern grid, India was forced to buy extra power from the tiny neighbouring kingdom of Bhutan. The reason for that outage is not yet clear.
“Even before we could figure out the reason for yesterday's failure, we had more grid failures today," R. N. Nayak, chairman of the state-run Power Grid Corporation, told reporters.
Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde blamed the new crisis on states taking more than their allotted share of electricity.
"Everyone overdraws from the grid. Just this morning, I held a meeting with power officials from the states and I gave directions that states that overdraw should be punished. We have given instructions that their power supply could be cut," he told reporters.
Shinde was promoted later in the day to home minister, the country’s top internal security official. The promotion had been previously planned as part of a larger cabinet shuffle.
India's demand for electricity has soared along with its economy in recent years, but utilities have been unable to meet the growing needs.
Worsening the problems is that vast amounts of power are pirated through unauthorized wiring.
A weak monsoon crossing the country has also kept temperatures higher, further increasing electricity demand as people turn up air conditioning.
Tuesday also marked India’s deadline for filing income taxes, but the government announced late in the day that it would give residents another month in the wake of the crisis.
With reports from The Associated Press