Science, Tech & Environment

India Power Outages: Living Through the Blackout


Passengers crowd at a railway station as they sit on tracks while waiting for the electricity to be restored in Kolkata July 31, 2012. Grids supplying electricity to half of India's 1.2 billion people collapsed on Tuesday, trapping coal miners, stranding train travellers and plunging hospitals into darkness in the second major blackout in as many days. REUTERS/Rupak De Chowdhuri (INDIA - Tags: ENERGY TRANSPORT)



The power is back on in India, at least for now. That's after hundreds of millions of people across the country suffered through two days of what's been called one of the world's worst blackouts.

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India's new power minister Veerappa Moily insists that the outage will "not be repeated". But Indians are used to spotty power supplies. So they're not so sure.

The BBC's Tinku Ray, in New Delhi, says that even though Indians are accustomed to power cuts and rolling blackouts, the breakdown of four of the nation's power grids caused widespread misery. She saw it firsthand in India's capital city.

"Everything was out," she says. "Not just in the homes. On the streets, there were no traffic lights. Delhi's subway, the Metro, was completely halted. People had to be evacuated off the trains. The city was grid locked. There were thousands of people out on the streets."

She says the government is still not sure of the cause. And that a panel is investigating the outages.

But she notes, "The government today was saying, 'Compare us to the United States back in 2003. It took days for the US to get its grid back up when we saw that massive blackout on the eastern seaboard, and, hey, it took us less than 24 hours to get our power back up.'"

Ray says many people and businesses had backup power. And a great many Indians did not experience the blackout personally, as they are not yet on the power grid. But she thinks "it's the sheer magnitude of the failure of this blackout that is more shocking and surprising, and that's what really angered Indians the most."