Video: Indian leaders unapologetic over power failure
The crisis sharpened fears about India’s failure to invest in the infrastructure needed to support its rapidly growing economy, in sharp contrast to neighboring China. It also destroyed any lingering hope that the nation’s entrepreneurial spirit and vibrant private sector could somehow deliver a significantly brighter future without a dramatic improvement in the way the country is governed.
“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 blackout, which hit the northern and eastern parts of the country, brought more than 500 trains screeching to a halt, left thousands of passengers stuck for nearly an hour inside the capital’s Metro line and trapped more than 200 miners underground.
There was gridlock on many streets in the capital as traffic lights stopped working. Bank ATMs also failed, but airports and major industries were unaffected, switching instantly to backup generators in a country used to power outages.
Along with a lack of investment in infrastructure, the crisis also had roots in many of India’s familiar failings: the populist tone of much of its politics, rampant corruption and poor management in its government and public sector, weak law enforcement, and a maze of regulations that restrict many industries.
Officials said they did not know what caused the blackout Tuesday, although a similar failure Monday was blamed on individual states drawing too much power from the grid, in defiance of regulations.
“It is open lawbreaking that goes on all the time in India,” said a Power Ministry official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the subject. “This time, it went beyond limits.”
The official said the national coalition government is unable to rein in powerful state chief ministers on whose support it often depends.
“We are powerless to enforce grid discipline like they do in developed countries of the world,” he said. “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.”
‘Politically correct prices’
Most Indian consumers receive heavily subsidized electricity, while farmers get free power, supposedly to pump groundwater to irrigate their land. But officials say much of the free power is illegally diverted to factories. That has left the grid overburdened and electricity-distribution companies heavily in debt.