Record blackout leaves over 600 million without electricity in India

Passengers sit on a platform for their train to arrive as they wait for electricity to be restored at a railway station in New Delhi July 31, 2012 (Reuters/Adnan Abidi)
More than ten percent of the world’s population has found itself without electricity, after three of India’s power grids failed. Blackouts have now plagued India for two consecutive days, leaving half the country without power.

The string of power shortages began on Monday, when India's northern and eastern power grids collapsed for several hours. Electricians restored the grids after a few hours, but the region’s electric infrastructure was still overloaded. On Tuesday the northern and eastern grids went offline again, followed by the northeastern grid – leaving half of the country's 1.2 billion people without power.

The Powergrid Corporation of India announced that it was working to put the country's grids back into operation, and by approximately 8 pm New Delhi time, managed to restore power the northeast of the country as well the most affluent areas of Delhi.

The failure is the worst in a decade, with outages reported as far to the east as the Assam state on the Chinese border, to the Himalayas in the north, and to the western deserts of Rajasthan that border Pakistan.

The additional load on India’s electric network was reportedly caused by a low-intensity monsoon that lowered hydroelectric generation, creating a power deficit. The monsoon also kept temperatures higher than usual, increasing the country’s use of air conditioners.

Passengers sit on a platform for their train to arrive as they wait for electricity to be restored at a railway station in New Delhi July 31, 2012 (Reuters/Adnan Abidi)
Passengers sit on a platform for their train to arrive as they wait for electricity to be restored at a railway station in New Delhi July 31, 2012 (Reuters/Adnan Abidi)

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Nationwide power outages, a country in chaos

Power outages hit more than 19 states according to local officials, including Delhi, Haryana, Punjab, J&K, Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal, Uttarakhand and Rajasthan.

In New Delhi, India’s capital, loss of power to traffic lights caused havoc on the streets. The shutdown of the city’s subway system, responsible for the daily transportation of some 1.8 million passengers, further snarled pedestrian and roadway traffic.

Some 100 megawatts of emergency power are currently being pumped into priority areas around New Delhi, such as hospitals and traffic lights. Power is also being diverted into the subway to help stranded passengers reach the nearest station. Subway service has been partially restored.

In Calcutta, lights were out at major hospitals around the city. At least 300 trains have also been affected by the outage in the country’s northern regions.

Over 250 coal miners were trapped in mines in the state of West Bengal as a result of the outages. All of them have been rescued after spending few hours underground, officials say.

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Electrical infrastructure lagging behind

Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde issued a statement saying that a three-member committee would be charged with determining the causes of the mass blackouts. He did not address claims that the outages may have been triggered by some states drawing more than their share of energy.

India’s electrical grid is lagging behind the country’s rapid economic growth, complicating the government’s plans to industrialize the country. The power shortages disrupt both businesses and small farmers, who are forced to resort to electric pumps to draw well water to irrigate crops.

New Delhi has recently allocated $1 trillion for the construction of infrastructure over the next five years.

Indian commuters wait near the closed gate of a Delhi metro station during a power outage in New Delhi on July 31, 2012. (AFP Photo/Sajjad Hussain)
Indian commuters wait near the closed gate of a Delhi metro station during a power outage in New Delhi on July 31, 2012. (AFP Photo/Sajjad Hussain)
Passengers sit in a train as they wait for electricity to be restored (Reuters/Adnan Abidi)
Passengers sit in a train as they wait for electricity to be restored (Reuters/Adnan Abidi)
Indian employees of the Revenue office work with the help of candles during a power cut in Siliguri on July 31, 2012. (AFP Photo/Diptendu Dutta)
Indian employees of the Revenue office work with the help of candles during a power cut in Siliguri on July 31, 2012. (AFP Photo/Diptendu Dutta)
An Indian man looks at towers carrying electricity power cables in Mumbai on July 31, 2012. (AFP Photo/Punit Paranjpe)
An Indian man looks at towers carrying electricity power cables in Mumbai on July 31, 2012. (AFP Photo/Punit Paranjpe)

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Indian passengers wait on the platform of Sealdah train station for the resumption of services during a power failure in Kolkata.(AFP Photo / Dibyangshu Sarkar)
Indian passengers wait on the platform of Sealdah train station for the resumption of services during a power failure in Kolkata.(AFP Photo / Dibyangshu Sarkar)

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Indian school girls walk on the tracks as passengers wait near the platform of Sealdah train station for the resumption of services during a power failure in Kolkata.(AFP Photo / Dibyangshu Sarkar)
Indian school girls walk on the tracks as passengers wait near the platform of Sealdah train station for the resumption of services during a power failure in Kolkata.(AFP Photo / Dibyangshu Sarkar)

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Indian women and children wait inside a train carriage at a railway station in New Delhi.(AFP Photo / Roberto Schmidt)
Indian women and children wait inside a train carriage at a railway station in New Delhi.(AFP Photo / Roberto Schmidt)