India restores power but jitters remain

India's power network was back at full capacity after two days of massive outages.

Afp August 01, 2012

NEW DELHI: India's power network was back at full capacity Wednesday after two days of massive outages that blacked out half the country and left more than 600 million people without electricity.

"Power has been restored fully across the northern, eastern and north-eastern grids," Power System Operation Corp. chief SK Soonee told AFP.

Monday's failure of the northern network, followed by the expanded collapse of all three grids after midday Tuesday caused chaos across a vast region, paralysing transport networks.

Hundreds of miners were trapped underground for hours in the eastern states of West Bengal and Jharkhand, metro services were stopped temporarily in the capital New Delhi and hundreds of trains were held up nationwide.

New Power Minister Veerappa Moily, who was appointed to the post in a cabinet reshuffle even as Tuesday's unprecedented crisis was still playing out, admitted he faced an enormous task in restoring public confidence.

"It is a very difficult and challenging situation, and solutions will have to be found," Moily said in a series of interviews with Indian television networks, one of which was interrupted by a blackout.

According to senior ministry officials, the two successive days of grid failure had been triggered by energy-hungry states drawing power beyond their allocated limits.

"I'm not going to start with a blame game. The centre and the states will have to work together on this," Moily said.

"The fact is that energy demand across India is huge, and we have to try and keep in touch with the pace of development," he added.

The massive power cuts left Indians angry and frustrated in cities across the affected region, as they struggled through gridlocked streets in the humid monsoon heat.

Wednesday's newspapers were predictably critical of the government, saying it lacked the political will to implement long called for reforms in the power sector.

"Powerless and Clueless," ran the front-page headline in the Times of India, while the Economic Times splashed with "Superpower India, RIP".

Business lobby group the Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) estimated the losses to small and large business in billions of rupees (tens of millions of dollars) and said India's investment image abroad had taken a major hit.

The repeated outages "carry a very negative image of India, when already sentiments about the country are low on account of the current economic situation," CII director general Chandrajit Banerjee said in a statement.

As one of the world's fastest emerging economies, it is "imperative that our basic infrastructure requirements" are in keeping with India's aspirations, Banerjee said.

"The recent developments have created a huge dent in the country's reputation that is most unfortunate," he added.

The government has set a target of $400 billion of private and public investment over the next five years, but its track record is abysmal.

India has undershot every electricity goal it has set for itself in its economic plans for the past six decades - and in the last three plans has missed capacity addition targets by 50%, according to the government Planning Commission.

Monday's outage had seen the northern grid, which supplies nine states including Delhi, collapse for six hours shortly after 2:00am.

In total, 20 out of 29 states were affected by Tuesday's expanded failure, which also had a far greater impact because it hit slap in the middle of the working day.