India Blackout: 'Complete Chaos' In Delhi, Power Still Out In Rural Areas

The blackout in India that left more than 700 million without power has caused chaos on the streets and at train stations.

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The blackout in India that left more than 700 million people without power caused chaos Tuesday on streets across the country, where hundreds of traffic lights stopped working, and at train stations, where at least 300 trains stopped running, according to Indian Railways spokesman Anil Kumar Saxena.

The Guardian reports that it was the world's worst blackout in recent times, affecting 20 of India's 28 states, including the capital New Delhi.

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After more than 10 hours without power in 89 percent humidity, Delhiites from across the city said the power went back on early evening—but they didn't expect it to stay that way for long.

Rakesh Sukla, a software engineer living in South Delhi, said he saw "complete chaos" at the train station, causing him to be hours late to work both Monday and Tuesday. And while power has often gone out during Sukla's two decades living in New Delhi, he says he cannot remember a blackout of this magnitude.

Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde told reporters Tuesday he believed the extraordiary blackout was caused because states with a large amount of agricultural activity used more of energy. Shinde, who was recently named Home Minister but acted as Power Minister Tuesday to deal with the disaster, also said he had ordered an investigation to see what went wrong.

But the outage raised questions about whether India's infrastructure could still meet the demands of a growing population already at 1.2 billion.

Samit Basu, a prominent Indian author based in Delhi, says the blackout reminded him of his teenage years when India's power sector was still developing. "Growing up it was like this. You never knew if there would be electricity or not," he said. "So it's a familiar feeling, sitting around and doing nothing and not knowing how many hours will pass until the power comes back on."

Basu's electricity also came back on early evening local time, and he said he now has a "full day's work to do."

"Ironically I am trying to put together a magazine anniversary issue on Independence Day," he says, citing India's major holiday to celebrate independence from British rule, which takes place on August 15. "I'm in a very 'state of the nation' mood right now."

Basu believes that because Shinde was recently named Home Minister, no one will be punished for mistakes that may have caused the outage.

While many Delhiites have now regained power, rural areas aren't so lucky.

The Guardian reports that in some parts of the country, "electric crematoria stopped operating, some with bodies left half burnt," and nurses at one hospital had to "manually operate life-saving equipment when back-up generators failed."

A similarly grim scene exists in West Bengal, where the power outage left hundreds of miners underground without elevators to carry them up. According to CNN, some 60 percent of the miners have now been brought above ground in emergency elevators.

In Ludhiana in the northwestern state of Punjab, the state government has declared an emergency.

Smita Aggarwal, a columnist on leave in Ludhiana from the Indian Express paper, said summer heat has made conditions during the power cuts "unbearable" and that the city was currently facing a water crisis.

Blaming the government for the outage, Aggarwal said "the meteorological department had predicted this. Lack of government preparedness, and co-operation with the state governments and flawed policies have brought upon this situation."

She also said Ludhiana, an industrial hub, had seen a "substantial" loss of business already from the blackout.

Forbes India automobile reporter Ashish Mishra says that he, too, witnessed frustration Tuesday from industry leaders, including a major automobile components company headquartered in the city of Noida, in the northwestern state of Uttar Pradesh.

The company, said Mishra, was "ruing the fact that ... plants are now running on diesel. Not good for the industrial cluster."

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