|Power failure cripples 19 states
NEW DELHI A massive power failure hit India for the second day on Tuesday as three national grids collapsed, blacking out more than half the country in an unprecedented outage affecting over 600 million people.
Hundreds of miners were trapped underground in West Bengal when the lifts failed, metro services were stopped temporarily in the capital and hundreds of trains were held up nationwide.
“The north, northeastern and the eastern grids are down but we are working and we will have them restored shortly,” Naresh Kumar, a spokesman at the Power Grid Corporation of India Ltd, said.
Federal Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said that the monster outage, which struck around 1pm in the middle of the working day, was caused by states drawing power “beyond their permissible limits”.
There appeared to have been a domino effect, with the overloaded northern grid drawing too heavily on the eastern grid which in turn led the northeastern network to collapse.
An area stretching from the western border with Pakistan to the far northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh next to China was affected, with the huge cities of New Delhi, Kolkata and Lucknow suffering without supplies.
As many as 19 states were hit, paralysing essential services such as rail and metro operations, besides causing massive traffic snarls.
The states affected on Tuesday were Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Haryana, Delhi, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, West Bengal, Odisha, Jharkhand, Sikkim, Asom, Meghalaya, Tripura, Nagaland, Manipur, Mizoram and Arunachal Pradesh.
These states account for half of India’s 1.2 billion population.
“Half the country is without power. It’s a situation totally without precedent,” said Vivek Pandit, an energy expert at the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.
Power was gradually flickering back in some areas several hours after the crisis struck and Power Grid Corporation chairman RN Nayak promised that the problems would be rectified by 7pm.
“Our message to people is ‘they are in safe hands, we have been in the job for years,” Nayak said at a news conference during which he apologised for the disruption.
In New Delhi, the metro train system came to a standstill for a few hours and traffic lights went out, causing chaos for a second day after a failure on the northern grid on Monday which caused the worst outage in more than a decade.
On the streets, people seethed over the lack of air conditioning, crashed computer systems and missed deliveries.
“I had been waiting for a shipment of stock to arrive since morning and now I’m told it will be delayed indefinitely,” said furious Delhi businessman Anshul Aggarwal.
“The stock was coming on a goods train which is now stuck in the middle of nowhere,” Aggarwal said.
About 400 trains on the national rail network were hit, a railways spokesman said, with all operations stopped in Uttar Pradesh, a state with a population of about 200 million people, bigger than Brazil’s.
In Jaipur, capital of the western state of Rajasthan, renowned internationally as a jewellery centre, gem cutters and polishers were forced to put down their tools.
“We have almost 200,000 workers engaged in the trade and most of them operate from their houses. They don’t have power back up, so it’s obviously a major problem,” said Vivek Kala, a former president of Jaipur Jewellers Association.
In the east, Kolkata went without power as did the surrounding state of West Bengal as the eastern grid, which supplies five states, failed under the stress of over-demand. “This is the worst power crisis in the region. We were supplying power to the northern grid and this power sharing has led to the collapse,” West Bengal Power Minister Manish Gupta said.
West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said that “hundreds” of miners had been trapped in mines operated by the government-owned Eastern Coalfields in Burdwan, about 180km northwest of Kolkata.
“All efforts are on to resume power supplies. You need power supplies to run the lifts in the underground mines,” she said, while declaring that state employees could go home for the day.
The miners had been asked to move to a location where there was good ventilation in the coal mines and a rescue team was trying to supply food and water to the miners.
“We want to bring them out as soon as possible,” an official said.
Monday’s outage had seen the northern grid, which supplies nine states including Delhi, collapse for six hours shortly after 2am.
In total, 20 out of 29 states were affected on Tuesday, said a source.
Shinde, the power minister, had called Monday’s outage a “failure” but also boasted that India had been quick to restore power, unlike the United States which took days to restore electricity after a 2003 blackout on its eastern seaboard.
He and the rest of the government woke up on Tuesday to a barrage of calls from business lobby groups for urgent reform of the power sector.
“The increasing gap between electricity supply and demand has long been a matter of concern,” said Chandrajit Banerjee, director general of the Confederation of Indian Industry.
Shinde attributed the collapse on the second straight day to overdrawing of power by some states and said efforts were on to fetch electricity from other regions.
“Alternative arrangements have been made. I have put all my men at work. We are getting power from western grid. We will try to restore services of the Metro and the railways first,” Shinde said.
There was, however, little respite for some 300,000 rail passengers, who were stuck in over 400 trains across eight states, after the power failure crippled such operations across six railway zones in the country.
“Failure in the northern and eastern power grid has affected railway operations across six of our railway zones. Over 300 passenger trains are stuck,” Anil Saxena, additional director general for public relations in the railway ministry, said.
The Delhi Metro suspended service on all the six lines as power tripped for the second straight day. It normally operates over 2,700 trips a day, covering a total some 70,000km, to carry around 1.8 million passengers on a week day.
A spokesperson for Delhi Metro said after the services were suspended, entry to stations was halted and the trains under operation were brought to the nearest Metro station for evacuation.
The Delhi Disaster Management Authority also helped in evacuation.
A couple of hours later, Metro services resumed partially.
In the national capital, and in most other cities, traffic was also severely affected as traffic signals tripped and caused major snarls at intersections. Some 4,000 traffic police personnel in Delhi were immediately deployed to bring some semblance of order.
However, flight operations remained normal.