Major power outage hits northern Indian cities

Associated Press
Stranded commuters wait for their trains to arrive at a train station in New Delhi, India, Monday, July 30, 2012. Northern India was plunged into darkness Monday after a supply grid tripped because of overloading, officials said. (AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)
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NEW DELHI (AP) — The electricity grid across northern India failed Monday, leaving hundreds of millions of people without electricity in one of the worst power failures of the past decade, officials said.

Hundreds of trains, including New Delhi's massive Metro, were forced to a halt and hospitals shifted to generator power when the country's northern grid crashed about 2:30 a.m. because it could no longer keep up with the huge demand for power in the hot summer. Residents woken from sleep when their fans and air conditioners stopped, came out of their homes in New Delhi's sweltering heat as the entire city turned dark.

By late morning, 60 percent of the power had been restored in the eight northern states affected by the outage, said Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde.

The rest should be back to normal by the late afternoon, he said, adding that he was forming a committee to investigate the outage.

The failure was the first time since 2001 that the northern grid had collapsed. But India's demand for electricity has soared since then as its economy has grown sharply.

In addition, a weak monsoon has kept temperatures higher this year, further increasing electricity usage as people seek to cool off. Shivpal Singh Yadav, the power minister in the state of Uttar Pradesh, home to 200 million people, said that while demand during peak hours hits 11,000 megawatts, the state can only provide 9,000 megawatts.

The grid collapsed because some states apparently drew more power than they were authorized to take to meet the summer demand, Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation chief Avnish Awasthi said.

Blackouts are a frequent occurrence in many Indian cities because of a shortage of power and an antiquated electricity grid. At the same time, tens of millions of people living in villages in northern India have no access to the electricity grid at all.

Earlier this month, angry crowds blocked traffic and clashed with police after blackouts in the Delhi suburb of Gurgaon that houses many high-rise apartment blocks and offices. With no power in some neighborhoods for more than 24 hours, people erected blockades that paralyzed traffic for several hours.

Transmission and distribution losses in some states are as much as 50 percent because of theft and connivance of employees in the power industry.

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Associated Press writer Biswajeet Banerjee contributed to this report from Lucknow, India.

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