India power failure puts 370 million in dark for hours

NEW DELHI — A power grid failure blacked out northern India for hours Monday, halting trains, forcing hospitals and airports onto backup power and providing a dark, sweltering reminder of the nation’s inability to meet its energy needs as it strives to be an economic power.

While the midsummer outage was unique in its reach — it hit 370 million people, more than the population of the United States and Canada combined — its impact was softened by Indians’ familiarity with almost daily blackouts of varying duration. Hospitals and major businesses have backup generators that seamlessly kick in during power cuts, and upscale homes are hooked to backup systems powered by truck batteries.

Nonetheless, some small businesses were forced to shut for the day. Buildings were without water because the pumps weren’t working, and the vaunted New Delhi Metro, with 1.8 million daily riders, was paralyzed during the morning commute.

“This will obviously get worse,” said Subhash Chawla, a 65-year-old retiree who took the Metro once power was restored. “Unless the Metro has a separate power supply, it will be chaos in the future.”

The grid that failed feeds the nation’s breadbasket in Punjab, the war-wracked region of Kashmir, the burgeoning capital of New Delhi, the Dalai Lama’s Himalayan headquarters in Dharmsala, and the world’s most populous state, poverty-stricken Uttar Pradesh.

Most affected areas had power back by late morning, less than nine hours after the outage started. By evening, 15 hours after the outage began, officials said full power had been restored.

Many chafed at the inconvenience.

Amit Naik, a toy maker in New Delhi, was forced to close his workshop for the day.

“There was no water, so my machine couldn’t run. Other people had the same difficulties,” he said.

The Confederation of Indian Industry said the outage was a reminder of the urgent need for the government to fix the power sector, ensure a steady supply of coal for power plants and reform the electricity utilities.

Transmission and distribution losses in some states are as much as 50 percent because of theft and corruption by employees in the power industry. India’s Central Electricity Authority reported power deficits of about 8 percent in recent months.

Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde deflected criticism, pointing out that the United States and Brazil also had huge power failures in recent years.

“I ask you to look at the power situation in other countries as well,” he said.

The blackout, the worst to hit India in a decade, began about 2:30 a.m. when the grid covering eight northern states crashed. Officials in Uttar Pradesh, where the problem was believed to have begun, said the grid could not keep up with the huge demand for power in the hot summer.

But Shinde said he was not sure exactly what caused the collapse and had formed a committee to investigate.

The outage left millions sweltering in the summer heat. Muslim families were forced to eat their pre-dawn meals by candlelight before beginning their daytime Ramadan fast. “It was really difficult,” said farmer Mohammed Zaman.

As officials struggled to get the grid back on line, they drew power from the neighboring eastern and western grids as well as hydroelectric power from the small neighboring mountain kingdom of Bhutan.

New Delhi residents were roused from sleep when their fans and air conditioners stopped, and came out of their homes in the heat as the entire city turned dark. Temperatures in the city were in the mid-30s C (90s F) with 89 percent humidity.

Some trains across the northern region were stranded when their electric engines failed. Others were delayed by hours as they were hooked to diesel engines.

The failure was the first time since 2001 that the northern grid had collapsed. But India’s demand for electricity has soared since then as its population and economy have grown sharply.

But any connection to the grid remains a luxury for many. One-third of India’s households do not even have electricity to power a light bulb, according to last year’s census.

The power deficit was worsened by a weak monsoon that lowered hydroelectric generation and kept temperatures higher, further increasing electricity usage as people seek to cool off. Shivpal Singh Yadav, the power minister in Uttar Pradesh, home to 200 million people, said that while demand during peak hours hits 11,000 megawatts, the state can only provide 9,000 megawatts.

Uttar Pradesh Power Corp. chief Avnish Awasthi blamed the grid collapse on states drawing more than their allotted power to meet the summer demand.

————

Associated Press writer Biswajeet Banerjee in Lucknow and Aijaz Hussain in Srinagar contributed to this report.

Talk to us

> Give us your news tips.

> Send us a letter to the editor.

> More Herald contact information.

More in Local News

Traffic idles while waiting for the lights to change along 33rd Avenue West on Tuesday, April 2, 2024 in Lynnwood, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Lynnwood seeks solutions to Costco traffic boondoggle

Let’s take a look at the troublesome intersection of 33rd Avenue W and 30th Place W, as Lynnwood weighs options for better traffic flow.

A memorial with small gifts surrounded a utility pole with a photograph of Ariel Garcia at the corner of Alpine Drive and Vesper Drive ion Wednesday, April 10, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Death of Everett boy, 4, spurs questions over lack of Amber Alert

Local police and court authorities were reluctant to address some key questions, when asked by a Daily Herald reporter this week.

The new Amazon fulfillment center under construction along 172nd Street NE in Arlington, just south of Arlington Municipal Airport. (Chuck Taylor / The Herald) 20210708
Frito-Lay leases massive building at Marysville business park

The company will move next door to Tesla and occupy a 300,0000-square-foot building at the Marysville business park.

Everett Fire Department and Everett Police on scene of a multiple vehicle collision with injuries in the 1400 block of 41st Street. (Photo provided by Everett Fire Department)
1 seriously injured in crash with box truck, semi truck in Everett

Police closed 41st Street between Rucker and Colby avenues on Wednesday afternoon, right before rush hour.

The Arlington Public Schools Administration Building is pictured on Tuesday, April 16, 2024, in Arlington, Washington. (Ryan Berry / The Herald)
$2.5M deficit in Arlington schools could mean dozens of cut positions

The state funding model and inflation have led to Arlington’s money problems, school finance director Gina Zeutenhorst said Tuesday.

Lily Gladstone poses at the premiere of the Hulu miniseries "Under the Bridge" at the DGA Theatre, Monday, April 15, 2024, in Los Angeles. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello)
Mountlake Terrace’s Lily Gladstone plays cop in Hulu’s ‘Under the Bridge’

The true-crime drama started streaming Wednesday. It’s Gladstone’s first part since her star turn in “Killers of the Flower Moon.”

Jesse L. Hartman (Photo provided by Everett Police Department)
Everett man who fled to Mexico given 22 years for fatal shooting

Jesse Hartman crashed into Wyatt Powell’s car and shot him to death. He fled but was arrested on the Mexican border.

Snow is visible along the top of Mount Pilchuck from bank of the Snohomish River on Wednesday, May 10, 2023 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Washington issues statewide drought declaration, including Snohomish County

Drought is declared when there is less than 75% of normal water supply and “there is the risk of undue hardship.”

Boeing Quality Engineer Sam Salehpour, right, takes his seat before testifying at a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs - Subcommittee on Investigations hearing to examine Boeing's broken safety culture with Ed Pierson, and Joe Jacobsen, right, on Wednesday, April 17, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/Kevin Wolf)
Everett Boeing whistleblower: ‘They are putting out defective airplanes’

Dual Senate hearings Wednesday examined allegations of major safety failures at the aircraft maker.

An Alaska Airline plane lands at Paine Field Saturday on January 23, 2021. (Kevin Clark/The Herald)
Alaska Airlines back in the air after all flights grounded for an hour

Alaska Airlines flights, including those from Paine Field, were grounded Wednesday morning. The FAA lifted the ban around 9 a.m.

A Mukilteo firefighter waves out of a fire truck. (Photo provided by Mukilteo Fire Department)
EMS levy lift would increase tax bill $200 for average Mukilteo house

A measure rejected by voters in 2023 is back. “We’re getting further and further behind as we go through the days,” Fire Chief Glen Albright said.

An emergency overdose kit with naloxone located next to an emergency defibrillator at Mountain View student housing at Everett Community College on Tuesday, March 5, 2024 in Everett, Washington. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
To combat fentanyl, Snohomish County trickles out cash to recovery groups

The latest dispersal, $77,800 in total, is a wafer-thin slice of the state’s $1.1 billion in opioid lawsuit settlements.

Support local journalism

If you value local news, make a gift now to support the trusted journalism you get in The Daily Herald. Donations processed in this system are not tax deductible.