Skip to main content

Stranded passengers wait for power to be restored at a New Delhi railway station on July 30, 2012.

Rajesh Kumar Singh/AP

A massive power failure blacked out a vast swathe of northern India Monday, leaving an estimated 300 million people without power in the worst outage in more than a decade, officials said.

Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said the entire northern grid collapsed for six hours shortly after 2:00 a.m. local time, causing chaos in nine states including the capital New Delhi.

The cut severely disrupted transport networks, including trains and metro services, while traffic light systems also went down in some major cities causing snarls in the morning rush hour.

Story continues below advertisement

Major hospital and airports in the region were able to function normally on emergency back-up power, officials said.

"We are used to electricity going occasionally, so we have a good back-up system," said a spokesman for Safdarjang Hospital in New Delhi, N. Makwana.

Mr. Shinde said a system overload was probably responsible for the outage. The grid was brought back online at 8:00 a.m., but running at only 60 per cent capacity.

"It is an accident, a failure," the minister admitted to reporters, adding that a special committee was being set up to probe the incident.

In a statement, the Power System Operation Corporation (PSOC), which manages the northern grid, said the "entire northern region", which is home to 28 per cent of India's 1.2 billion population, had been affected.

The nine affected states were Delhi, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Jammu and Kashmir, Madhya Pradesh, Punjab, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh.

Limited power outages are extremely common across India, which runs a peak-hour power deficit of around 12 per cent according to the Central Electricity Authority.

Story continues below advertisement

Industry leaders say electricity shortages have become a major obstacle to economic growth in the country, which has an installed power generation capacity of 187 gigawatts – about 20 per cent of China's level.

Mr. Shinde said the speed with which power had been restored to most areas compared well with similar mass outages in the developed world, including the 2003 blackout that affected much of the eastern seaboard of the United States.

"It took four days to restore power in America ... our power grid is very good," he said.

"By 2014, the whole country's grids will be connected so they can take power from each other ... so you won't have these problems again," he added.

In New Delhi, the city's metro system shut down completely during the night and was operating only 25 per cent of normal services from 7:00 a.m.

The last serious power outage in India was in 2001, when the northern grid crashed for around 12 hours, costing industry an estimated $110-million in lost production.

Story continues below advertisement

"I believe it (the outage) could be because of the great indiscipline of the states in overdrawing power – the grid will only collapse if you overdraw," said Vivek Pandit, energy director at business lobby group the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry.

India's fast-growing economy is heavily dependent on highly pollutant coal and imports of crude oil. Less than three per cent of India's electricity comes from nuclear power but it hopes to raise the figure to 25 per cent by 2050.

Do you know those who have been affected by the blackouts? Share your story below or click here if using a mobile device.

Report an error
Due to technical reasons, we have temporarily removed commenting from our articles. We hope to have this fixed soon. Thank you for your patience. If you are looking to give feedback on our new site, please send it along to feedback@globeandmail.com. If you want to write a letter to the editor, please forward to letters@globeandmail.com.

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff. Non-subscribers can read and sort comments but will not be able to engage with them in any way. Click here to subscribe.

If you would like to write a letter to the editor, please forward it to letters@globeandmail.com. Readers can also interact with The Globe on Facebook and Twitter .

Welcome to The Globe and Mail’s comment community. This is a space where subscribers can engage with each other and Globe staff.

We aim to create a safe and valuable space for discussion and debate. That means:

  • Treat others as you wish to be treated
  • Criticize ideas, not people
  • Stay on topic
  • Avoid the use of toxic and offensive language
  • Flag bad behaviour

Comments that violate our community guidelines will be removed.

Read our community guidelines here

Discussion loading ...

Cannabis pro newsletter