Electric power was restored across northern India on Wednesday after an electric grid failure on July 30 and 31 resulted in the world's largest blackout. More than 600 million people, or nearly one tenth of the global population, were affected.
As the country's economy and population continues to rapidly expand, the energy crisis has sharpened fears about India's ability to invest in the infrastructure needed to support it.
“As one of the emerging economies of the world, which is home to almost a sixth of the world population, it is imperative that our basic infrastructure requirements are in keeping with India’s aspirations,” Chandrajit Banerjee, director general of the Confederation of Indian Industry, said in a statement. “The developments of yesterday and today have created a huge dent in the country’s reputation that is most unfortunate.”
Tuesday's incident trapped over 200 miners underground and brought more than 500 trains to a halt, leaving thousands of passengers stuck for nearly an hour inside the capital's Metro line. Major industries and airports were unaffected, relying on backup generators in a country prone to outages.
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Although officials say they are unsure what caused the blackout, some blame individual states for drawing too much power from the grid, defying regulations.
“We are powerless to enforce grid discipline like they do in developed countries of the world,” said a Power Ministry official to the Washington Post. “There are political constraints. We are even afraid to name the [offending] states. But what happened yesterday and today is a warning for all of us.”
Although Indian consumers receive heavily subsidized electricity and farmers get free power, officials claim that much of the free power is illegally diverted to factories, leaving the grid overburdened and electric companies heavily in debt.
“India’s basic energy shortage is compounded by the policy of selling electricity to consumers at politically correct prices,” the Hindustan Times wrote in an editorial. “The government-owned distribution monopolies in the states have all but lost their ability to buy power because their political bosses force them to sell it cheap, sometimes free, to voters.”
India has a power deficit of 8 to 12 percent, while a quarter of the population, 300 million people, have no access to power at all. Although the country has significant coal reserves, mines have been held back from opening due to disputes over environmental and land permits. A lack of investment in technology has prevented output from keeping up with demand, and the country now faces a frightening scenario.
Unable to keep up with the consumption-led boom in recent years, the failure to invest in India's infrastructure has slowed the country's economic growth to about 6 percent.