Massive failure: 600 million in India lose power; grid collapses for second day

A linesman uses a hammer to adjust a rai

ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images

A linesman uses a hammer to adjust a rail at a train station in New Delhi on July 31, 2012. India's worst power grid failure in more than a decade and a deadly train fire on Monday highlighted the crumbling infrastructure holding back Asia's third-largest economy, according to experts. 'Infrastructure has always been the soft spot of the Indian economy — there has not been enough investment, which has lowered the potential growth rate,' Dariusz Kowalczyk, senior economist at Credit Agricole, told AFP.

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Passengers waited for trains Tuesday at a railway station in New Delhi. Another grid failure cut power, causing chaos.


Things have gotten even worse in India, where a power failure that affected about 370 million people on Monday was followed by an even larger grid collapse today that left about 600 million without access to electricity.

That's about 100 million more people than the combined populations of Canada, the U.S., Mexico and the nations of Central America. The outage is affecting about half of India's population.

From New Delhi, correspondent Elliot Hannon tells our Newscast Desk that "around 1 o'clock in the afternoon local time [today], the country's northern and eastern power grids failed. ... In New Delhi, schools and office workers poured out into the afternoon drizzle to try to beat the rush home. Stop lights were dark for the second straight day and the city's metro system again failed."

According to the BBC, "the breakdown has hit a large swathe of the country including Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Himachal Pradesh and Rajasthan states in the north, and West Bengal, Bihar, Orissa and Jharkhand in the east."

It isn't clear when power will be restored to all those places.

The Hindustan Times has this remarkable quote from Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, the same man who on Monday boasted that India has one of the best power grids in the world:

"Yes, I've heard that the Northern and Eastern grids have failed. We are looking into the matter. We are inquiring."

Officials had earlier blamed the collapses on utilities in some states who tried to draw too much power from the overtaxed grid.

The Guardian offers this rather understated analysis:

"The power failure has raised serious concerns about India's outdated infrastructure and the government's inability to meet an insatiable appetite for energy, as the country vies to become a regional economic superpower."

India's NewsX has a video report.

One thing to note — while hundreds of millions are affected by these outages, many Indians have little or no access to electricity even when the grid is working. As the BBC writes:

"Any connection to the grid remains a luxury for many. One-third of India's households do not have enough electricity to power a light bulb, according to last year's census."

Update at 9:10 a.m. ET. Some Power Restored:

The Times of India is live blogging here. Its latest updates have Power Minister Shinde claiming power has been restored in some areas — "Northeast zone back to 100% normal: Shinde," is among the latest posts.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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