By SAURABH CHATURVEDI and SANTANU CHOUDHURY
NEW DELHI -- Much of India's electricity-supply network
collapsed Tuesday in the country's second major outage in two
days, affecting more than 680 million people - double the
population of the US - and causing business losses estimated to
run into the hundreds of millions of dollars.
Thousands of offices and factories had to switch to
generators or shut shop, more than 200 trains were brought to a
standstill, and hospitals had to ask nurses to manually work
critical equipment such as ventilators as 21 provinces
experienced a near-total blackout that demonstrated the rickety
nature of the infrastructure in Asia's third-largest
Metro rail services in the national capital of New Delhi and
its suburbs were halted for several hours as well, a spokesman
for the Delhi Metro Rail Corp. said.
At Delhi's international airport, diesel generators kicked
in automatically to ensure operations weren't interrupted.
The power outage, the worst in India's history and affecting
more than half of its 1.2 billion population, was caused by the
failure of power grids at 0730 GMT.
Rabindra Nath Nayak, chairman of the state-run Power Grid
Corp. of India, said the company is working
to restore normal power supply to all affected regions.
Power Grid operates all five of India's regional grids, or
supply networks. It runs more than 100,000 kilometers of
The northern, eastern and northeastern grids, all of which
failed Tuesday, have a combined peak-hour load of about 46,000
On Monday, the northern grid failed, affecting power supply
in nine provinces for the worst outage in northern India in 10
Coal-based power plants at NTPC Ltd., India's largest power
generator by capacity, stopped operating for several hours
Tuesday, Chairman Arup Roy Choudhury said.
The power outage came despite assurances from the power
minister about restoring normal electricity supply after
Monday's grid failure. It reflects the South Asian nation's
inability to supply its homes and businesses with sufficient
power - a major concern for local and overseas investors as
well as policy makers.
Experts estimate that problems associated with India's
creaky infrastructure - including roads and ports - shave off
about two percentage points from its gross domestic product
This makes a speedy overhaul of the power infrastructure
crucial to boosting economic growth. But efforts by India to
build new power plants haven't yet yielded results because of a
shortage of coal.
More than half of India's power-generation capacity of 205
gigawatts is coal-based, and Coal India Ltd., the world's
biggest coal producer, is unable to produce enough because of
delays in getting environmental clearances for
An ambitious program to build nuclear power plants has faced
public protests, especially after the nuclear accident in
Fukushima, Japan, last year.
Government giveaways in the form of free electricity to
farmers and a reluctance among politicians to raise power
charges to sufficiently cover costs have drained cash reserves
from the largely state-run electricity-distribution companies,
leaving them with mounting debt.
India aims to expand its power-generation capacity by 44%
over the next five years. In June, power generation fell short
by 5.8% of the peak-hour demand of 128 gigawatts, according to
The government has announced the appointment of a
three-member panel to investigate the cause of Monday's power
failure in northern India. The committee will submit its
report in two weeks.
The committee is made up of Arvinder Singh Bakshi, chairman
of the Central Electricity Authority, India's power-sector
monitoring agency; Power Grid's Mr. Nayak; and S. K. Soonee,
chief executive of the state-run Power System Operation
Chandrajit Banerjee, director general of the Confederation
of Indian Industry lobby group, described the two outages as a
"telling commentary on the situation of the power sector in the
He said businesses incurred hundreds of millions of dollars
in losses Tuesday, "which pales into insignificance when
compared to the difficulty that the people of the country have
had to face."
Mr. Banerjee said the grid failures on two consecutive days
"have created a huge dent in the country's reputation."
The exact reasons for Tuesday's power failure weren't
immediately known, but Power Grid's Mr. Nayak said
tripping at several inter-connectivity points of the
[northern] grid could have had a cascading effect.
He added: Even before we could figure out the reason
for [Monday's] failure, we had more grid failures
By 1400 GMT, up to 80% of the power supply had been restored
in northern India and up to 45% in eastern India, a spokesman
for Power Grid said. In northeastern India, full power supply
We are on track to [restoring supply] fully to all the
regions as soon as possible, the spokesman said.
This will come as a huge relief, with the effects of
Tuesday's outage spreading to mines, hospitals and even
About 200 miners were stranded in an underground mine in
eastern India as their elevators were stuck due to the power
disruption. All the miners were later safely rescued, said
Niladri Roy, general manager of Eastern Coalfields Ltd., a unit
of Coal India Ltd. - the world's largest producer of the
At a coal mine run by Bharat Coking Coal Ltd., another unit of
Coal India, about 70 miners were trapped, of which about 20
were rescued by evening, a senior company executive said.
Later, the company said the remaining miners had been
At Nigambodh Ghat, a crematorium in New Delhi, three bodies
were cremated using wood after the electricity failed, an
The All India Institute of Medical Sciences, one of Delhi's
main state-run hospitals, ran its diesel generators for almost
two hours until power supply resumed, spokesman Y.K. Gupta
Another hospital, Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital, was worse off:
There has been no electricity for the last 11
hours, a duty officer at the hospital said. Only
emergency operations can be performed.
A spokeswoman for GAIL (India) Ltd., the country's largest
gas distributor by sales, said power stations drew less natural
Earlier in the day, Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said
efforts are continuing to resume supply at the earliest,
especially to essential services.
Later, the government announced that Mr. Shinde will take
over as the next home minister of India. The power portfolio has been
given as an additional charge to Corporate Affairs Minister
The moves aren't linked to the power failure but part of a
reshuffling of ministers to allow Home Minister P. Chidambaram
to take over the finance portfolio.
Dow Jones Newswires