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On Tuesday, July 31 India experienced what is being called the largest blackout ever. Twenty of the twenty-eight Indian states were without power for hours, leaving 620 million people, twice the population of the United States, without power.
Three regional grids completely collapsed on Tuesday, and one – the northern grid – also collapsed on Monday which is considered the second largest blackout ever after affecting 370 million people. The grids affected include the northern, eastern, and northeastern grids as well as the areas of Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh, Rajasthan, West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa, and Jharkhand.
It is not uncommon for India to experience small, local power failures, but power failures of this scope are almost unheard of. The last time the northern grid failed completely was 2001. Recently officials have announced that the northeastern grid is completely operational, while the northern and eastern grids are at 75% and 40% capacity respectively.
The power outage has affected both those who do not have access to electricity in their homes – about one-third of the country – and those who do. Trains stopped and hospitals began running on backup generators. According to BBC’s Rajini Vaidyanathan, “more than half of India’s population has ground to a halt.” Many of the trains have started running again recently but now they are extremely backlogged.
Two hundred miners in West Bengal were also trapped because the lifts they use run on electricity. One mine official, Nildari Roy, stated, “We are waiting for the restoration of power to bring them up through the lifts, but there is no threat to their lives or any reason to panic.” No one so far has been reported as injured.
Anu Chopra, a shop-worker in Delhi said “I can understand this happening once in a while but how can one allow such a thing to happen two days in a row? It just shows our infrastructure is in a complete mess. There is no transparency and no accountability whatsoever.”
The Indian Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde claims that the power failure is due to the states taking too much from the national grid. “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.”
Shinde was promoted to Home Minister, the top internal security official, on July 31 during a cabinet shuffling that was planned before all of these events occurred.
One state, Uttar Pradesh, has several officials protesting, claiming it is not their fault. One official from Uttar Pradesh stated that there is “no reason to believe that any power operations in Uttar Pradesh triggered it.”
The Chairman of the Power Grid Corporation of India also made an announcement stating, “we have to see why there was a sudden increase in load… we will make sure that such a situation is not repeated. Our message to people is that they are in safe hands, we have been in the job for years.”
Many believe that the power shortages are also related to the shortage of energy in India and the aging grid system. Past power failures have caused protests and unrest, according to the BBC. Additionally, the economy of India has been growing but the power infrastructure has not been doing the same, meaning that the growing demand for power is not being met.
Bharatiya Janat Patry spokesman, Prakash Javadekar, criticized the government handling of the power failures and energy crisis. “It is a huge failure of the management in the power sector by the UPA government. Their failure is twin failure. It is management failure as well as the police failure.”
The power deficit at India in recent months has been as high as eight percent. Additionally, a lot of power is pirated through illegal wiring woven into the electrical system.
A weak monsoon season may also have added to the strain on the system. The hydroelectric generation was down and temperatures were higher which caused electrical usage to increase.