NEW DELHI â€” It had all the makings of a disaster movie: More than half a billion people without power. Trains motionless on the tracks. Miners trapped underground. Subway lines paralyzed. Traffic snarled in much of the national capital.
IndiaÂ suffered the largest electrical blackout in history on Tuesday, affecting an area encompassing about 670 million people, or roughly 10 percent of the worldâ€™s population. Three of the countryâ€™s interconnected northern power grids collapsed for several hours, as blackouts extended almost 2,000 miles, from Indiaâ€™s eastern border with Myanmar to its western border with Pakistan.
For a country considered a rising economic power, Blackout Tuesday â€” which came only a day after another major power failure â€” was an embarrassing reminder of the intractable problems still plaguing India: inadequate infrastructure, a crippling power shortage and, many critics say, a yawning absence of governmental action and leadership.
Indiaâ€™s coalition government, already battered for its stewardship of a wobbling economy, again found itself on the defensive, as top ministers could not definitively explain what had caused the grid failure or why it had happened on consecutive days. Theories for the extraordinarily extensive blackout across much of northern India included excessive demands placed on the grid from certain regions, due in part to low monsoon rains that forced farmers to pump more water to their fields, and the less plausible possibility that large solar flares had set off a failure.
By Tuesday evening, power had been restored in most regions, and many people in major cities barely noticed the disruption, because localized blackouts are so common that many businesses, hospitals, offices and middle-class homes are equipped with backup diesel fuel generators.
But that did not prevent people from being furious, especially after the government chose Tuesday to announce a long-awaited cabinet reshuffle â€” in which the power minister was promoted to take over the home ministry, one of the countryâ€™s most important positions.
â€œThis is a huge failure,â€ said Prakash Javadekar, a spokesman for the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party. â€œIt is a management failure as well as a failure of policy. It is policy paralysis in the power sector.â€
For millions of ordinary people, Tuesday brought frustration and anger; for some, there was fear. As nighttime arrived, Kirti Shrivastava, 49, a housewife in the eastern city of Patna, said power had not been restored in her neighborhood.
â€œThere is no water, no idea when electricity will return,â€ she said. â€œWe are really tense. Even the shops have now closed. Now we hope it is not an invitation to the criminals!â€
Tuesday also brought havoc to Indiaâ€™s railroad network, one of the busiest in the world. Across the country, hundreds of trains were stalled on the tracks for hours before service resumed. At the bustling New Delhi Railway Station, Jaswant Kaur, 62, found herself stranded after a miserable day. Her initial train was stopped by the power failure. By the time she reached New Delhi, her connecting train was already gone.
â€œNow my pocket is empty,â€ she said. â€œI am hungry. I am tired. The government is responsible.â€
Sushil Kumar Shinde, the power minister, who spoke to reporters in the afternoon, did not specify what caused the grid breakdown but blamed several northern states for consuming too much power from the national system. â€œI have asked my officers to penalize those states which are drawing more power than their quota,â€ said Mr. Shinde, whose promotion was announced a few hours later.
Surendra Rao, formerly Indiaâ€™s top electricity regulator, said the national grid had a sophisticated system of circuit breakers that should have prevented such a blackout. But he attributed this weekâ€™s problems to the bureaucrats who control the system, saying that civil servants are beholden to elected state leaders who demand that more power be diverted to their regions â€” even if doing so threatens the stability of the national grid.
To read more, visit:Â http://www.nytimes.com/2012/08/01/world/asia/power-outages-hit-600-million-in-india.html