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India in grip of second power crisis

Anger as analysts say that some north India states have drawn more power than their share from the grid, causing crisis.
Last modified: 31 Jul 2012 20:29

The first call from the Doha newsdesk today was: "Is there an update on India's power outage story?"

I confidently told my Doha colleague Omar: "No way! It was the worst power crisis India has seen but it's all in the past. We definitely won't see a repeat act very soon."

But I had spoken too soon.

In an hour's time, India witnessed another major power cut. And this time it wasn't just Delhi and a few north Indian states. This time the northern grid failed, dragging with it the entire eastern sector and the northeastern states.

Over 600 million people are affected by this power cut on Tuesday - and it seems that nearly half of India is without power.

But we had other more important things to worry about. Our immediate worry was how do we function? How do we report this power outage? Will the building lift function?

Our building management had already sent us an email claiming their inability to provide backup for long if the power cut persists beyond a couple of hours.

Al Jazeera's bureau is right in the city centre, in Delhi's busy Connaught place. The view from the bureau balcony told us the story.

The traffic lights had stopped functioning, forcing the traffic policemen to manually control the chaos.

Bumper-to-bumper traffic stranded thousands of commuters. Charanjit Singh was standing at a bus stop, not sure if he would get a bus and wondering if it would be quicker to walk.

What's happening, I asked? He told me: "It was a mistake when it happened the first time ... but second time? What's the government doing? This can become a security risk."

Dry spell

My colleagues Mahadev Rao and Paradip Kumar and I were right in the middle of the traffic chaos. The cars were snailing along.

All Metro rail services across Delhi also stopped. The Metro stations had small, hurriedly written notices announcing the temporary stoppage of service.

"We are waiting for two hours. Metro is not plying," said Ankit Sharma, a college student.

"We cannot find [any] means to go to home. No one has informed us as to how much time it will take to restore the services. We had to face a lot of problems to reach college when a similar situation occurred yesterday."

What's making the people of Delhi really upset is that it is not just a technical fault.

Analysts say that some north Indian states have drawn more power than their share from the grid. The dry spell in most of the northern regions is adding to the crisis. Farmers who were dependent on rainfall are now using more power for irrigation.

But I met someone who is ever optimistic. Vikram Bhattacharya is a young professional who said: "What's the use blaming the government ... they aren't doing it purposely.

"We should lower our consumption - there are houses with over five airconditioning. One should stop this."

But tell this to Satnam, who runs a small grocery shop in central Delhi. His business is suffering because of these long power cuts. Satnam was without power almost the whole day yesterday and now once again today.

All the perishable products are of no use, he tells me.

We eventually finished our shooting and on our way back to office we saw the familiar sight of the Metro on the overhead lines.

The services were slowly coming back to normal.

But in the residential regions of India's capital, there was still no electricity. The question we have now - much like the rest of India - is: 'Will this power crisis happen once again?'