NEW DEHLI: A massive power failure hit India for a 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.
The worst-ever power crisis in the country’s history threw more than 60% of the population into the dark and brought all essential services, including railways, hospitals, water supply and airports, to a grinding halt.
The failure followed a similar crisis in the functioning of transmission lines on Monday and covered the northern, eastern and the north-eastern grids that supply electricity to 20 states. The other two grids – Western and Southern – remain unaffected.
Stretching from Assam, near China, to the Himalayas and the northwestern deserts of Rajasthan, the outage was the worst to hit India in more than a decade and embarrassed the government, which has failed to build up enough power capacity to meet soaring demand.
“Even before we could figure out the reason for yesterday’s failure, we had more grid failures today,” said RN Nayak, chairman of the state-run Power Grid Corporation.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has vowed to fast-track stalled power and infrastructure projects as well as introduce free market reforms. But he has drawn fire for dragging his feet.
While the exact cause of the incident was yet to be ascertained, heavy overdrawing of power from the grid by a few states including Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana appeared to be the main cause.
“Around 3,000 megawatts (MW) of power has been overdrawn from the eastern grid. Strict action will be taken against the states indulging in overdrawal,” Indian Power Minister SK Shinde told reporters earlier in the day.
“This is the second day that something like this has happened. I’ve given instructions that whoever overdraws power will be punished,” said Shinde, hours before he was promoted to home minister in a cabinet reshuffle.
Drawing more power than scheduled from the grid is a violation of the Indian Electricity Grid Code (IEGC) and attracts penalty from the central electricity regulator.
Data shows that the nine northern states including UP, Haryana, Rajasthan, Punjab, Uttarakhand, Delhi, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu & Kashmir and Chandigarh together drew 28.5 million units (MUs) of power from the grid before the collapse at 2:30 am on Monday.
Some of these states have been drawing excessively from the grid in the past to avoid buying power from the market, sources said.
Power gradually flickering back
By the afternoon rush-hour, only about 40% of power was back up. Electricity had not been restored to all of the sweltering capital, New Delhi, and streets were clogged with commuters trying to get home.
Trains were halted midway and batteries were used to haul them to the nearest stations. Banking operations were affected and the intercity metro shut down for several hours, causing huge irate crowds to gather. Traffic signals shut down and airport operations were run on backup power.
Two hundred miners were stranded in three deep coal shafts in the state of West Bengal when their electric elevators stopped working.
Eastern Coalfields Limited official Niladri Roy said workers at the mines were not in danger and were being taken out.
The power failed in some major city hospitals and office buildings had to fire up diesel generators.
By mid-evening, services had been restored on the New Delhi metro system.
ADDITIONAL INPUT FROM AGENCIES
Published in The Express Tribune, August 1st, 2012.