India’s Long Struggle for Power


India’s power outages this week were the nation’s largest, but they reflect a long-standing national problem.

“India has long struggled to provide enough electricity to light its homes and power its industry around the clock,” Vikas Bajaj wrote this April. “In recent years, the government and private sector sought to change that by building scores of new power plants,” he wrote, but that campaign “is now running into difficulties because the country cannot get enough fuel – principally coal – to run the plants.”

Clumsy policies, poor management and environmental concerns have kept fuel production low, he wrote, and the power’s sector’s problems have “substantially contributed to a second year of slowing economic growth in India, to an estimated 7 percent this year, from nearly 10 percent in 2010.”

Before this week’s massive outages that covered several state, one city in particular already had severe problems this year. “In northern India, where the mercury crossed 40 degrees Celsius – 104 degrees Fahrenheit – every day for the last month, Gurgaon, an outsourcing megacity that is home to more than 1.5 million people, is facing an acute power crisis,” Pamposh Raina wrote in July. The reason: five of the six plants that supply Gurgaon weren’t experiencing technical malfunctions, and the sixth was out of coal, power officials said.

A number of new initiatives have been tried across India over the years to address the power shortage:

Even after the nuclear disaster in Japan last year, Indian officials said they would move ahead with ambitious nuclear plans, Heather Timmons and Vikas Bajaj wrote in March of 2011. “India, with 20 nuclear reactors already in operation, plans to spend an estimated $150 billion adding dozens of new ones around the country. Its forecast calls for nuclear power to supply about a quarter of the country’s electricity needs by 2050, a tenfold increase from now,” they wrote.

Later in 2011, Mr. Bajaj wrote about “India’s ambitious plan to use solar energy to help modernize its notoriously underpowered national electricity grid, and reduce its dependence on coal-fired power plants.” The plans include huge solar farms in western India, where dozens of developers, “because of aggressive government subsidies and a large drop in the global price of solar panels, are covering India’s northwestern plains – including this village of 2,000 people – with gleaming solar panels.”

So-called “husk power,” or electricity from methane gas released by rice husks, could also hold hope for rural India,
Andrew Revkin wrote in 2009.

Electricity innovators were aimed at India as early as the 1950s, according to this article that ran in The New York Times in July of 1958. It introduced an American-designed device that “may revolutionize the live of ru ral India.” The invention? An “electric generator and pumped, powered by bullocks.”

India’s Power Guzzlers to the North


India’s fundamental shortage of energy has been well-documented: the country does not generate enough power to meet the fast-growing demand for electricity from factories, institutions like hospitals and subway systems and private homes.

Whether or not this shortage had any direct impact on the power outages Monday and Tuesday is still being determined by central government authorities.

But one thing is certain: some individual states, particularly in India’s north, have been drawing much more power than expected. When this happens, state authorities are warned by various regional authorities about the excess usage, and penalties may be imposed. Still, the supply of power often continues uninterrupted, sometimes straining the system.

On Monday, the Central Electricity Regulatory Commission in New Delhi reprimanded electricity authorities in the states of Uttar Pradesh, Punjab, Har yana and Uttarakhand. Officers have been summoned to a hearing, scheduled to be held in two weeks.

Uttar Pradesh tops the states in power overdraws, according to the latest report from the National Load Dispatch Center, which monitors national power use. In June, Uttar Pradesh drew 750 million units more of power than it had scheduled, or 25 percent more than expected.

Punjab and Haryana also surpassed their limits by significant margins, about 7 percent and 13.5 percent, respectively. West India has shown great discipline, led by Gujarat, which drew about 30 percent less power than the state’s assigned quota. The eastern region, which also suffered a grid collapse Tuesday, consumed 7.5 percent less power last month than was expected.

“I want to inform the states not to draw more power that your quota allotted,” India’s minister for power, Sushil Kumar Shinde, said at a news conference in Delhi on Tuesday. “If you do that, it will create a problem for the nation.”

India Hosts World’s Largest Blackout


The colossal power failure that swept through half of India early Tuesday afternoon, causing disruptions in the lives of hundreds of millions of people, has earned India a new and dubious distinction: Host of the World’s Largest Blackout.

Some 600 million people were estimated to be affected after power was halted in 11 states in northern and eastern India and in the country’s capital of 16 million people. Imagine most of Europe without power, or more people powerless than the populations of the United States, Mexico and Central America combined.

While the numbers are colossal, disruptions in many peoples daily lives were kept to a minimum. After all, India, a nation of 1.2 billion people, sees frequent local power cuts that last several hours a day in some parts of the country. So when Tuesday’s unplanned power failure occurred, following on the heels of another power failure the previ ous day, the usual backup of generators and inverters that households and businesses privately own kicked in.

Here some other memorable blackouts, listed in chronological order:

Canada and northeastern United States, 1965: Toronto and New York were plunged into darkness as a blackout strikes Ontario and the northeastern United States, affecting 30 million people.

New York, 1977: The familiar shapes of the world’s most famous skyline were all blotted out by darkness on the night of July 13. The blackout lasted alittle more than 24 hours, a period in which 1,000 fires were reported, 1,600 stores were damaged in looting and rioting and 3,700 people were arrested.

United States, 2003: A surge of electricity to western New York and Canada touched off a series of power failures and blackouts that left parts of at least eight states in the Northeast and the Midwest without electricity.

Italy, 2003: One of the worst blackouts in Italy’s history left mos t of the country without electricity for hours, interrupting rail and air traffic, jamming emergency operator phone lines and forcing thousands of Romans into makeshift refuges in subway stations. The power loss left nearly 57 million people in the dark.

Indonesia, 2005: About 100 million people, about half of Indonesia’s population, were affected by a power outage, which affected residences and businesses and snarled traffic in Jakarta, the capital.

Over Half a Billion Without Power in India as Grids Fail


“About 600 million people lost power in India on Tuesday when the country’s northern and eastern electricity grids failed, crippling the country for a second consecutive day,” Heather Timmons and Sruthi Gottipati wrote in The New York Times.

“The outage stopped hundreds of trains in their tracks, darkened traffic lights, shuttered the Delhi Metro and left everyone from the police to water utilities to private businesses and citizens without electricity. About half of India’s population of 1.2 billion people was without power.”

Manoranjan Kumar, an economic advisor with the Ministry of Power, said in a telephone interview that the grids had failed and that the ministry was working to figure out the source of the problem. The northern and eastern grids cover 11 states and the capital city of Delhi, stretching from India’s northern tip in Kashmir to Rajasthan to West Bengal’s capital of Kolkata.

The failure happened without warning just after 1:00 p.m., electric company officials said.

“We seem to have plunged into another power failure, and the reasons why are not at all clear,” said Gopal K. Saxena, the chief executive of BSES, an electric company that services South Delhi, in a telephone interview. It may take a long time to restore power to north India, he said, because the eastern grid has also failed, and alternate power sources in Bhutan and the Indian state of Sikkim flow into the east first.

About two hours after the grid failure, power ministry authorities said some alternate arrangements had been made. “We are taking hydro power from Bhakhra Nangal Dam,” in northern India, said Sushil Kumar Shinde, the power minister, in a televised interview.

Read the full article.

Life Imprisonment for 21 in Gujarat Riots Case


“An Indian court on Monday sentenced 21 Hindus to life imprisonment in the deaths of 11 members of a Muslim family during some of the country’s worst sectarian violence 10 years ago,” an Associated Press report said.

More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed by Hindu mobs in Gujarat after a train fire, allegedly started by Muslims, killed 60 Hindus in 2002.

“The verdict on Monday was the second in nine cases of rioting and murder pending against hundreds of Hindu hard-liners,” the report said. Verdicts on the remaining cases are expected to be issued within a year, as per the orders of the Supreme Court, the highest court in India. The report noted that India’s courts were notorious for long delays.

Read the full report.

Bangalore’s Seniors Head to Work as ‘Traditional Indian Family’ Dissolves


Sheela Rao, 67, has never written a résumé, attended a job interview or used a computer in her life. She has not ever worked in an office. Yet on a recent Saturday, Ms. Rao, a sari-clad, bindi-wearing homemaker, jostled with 1,000 other elders like her, some in their 80s, at a job fair named “Jobs 60+” in Bangalore.She can cook, sew and teach music, Ms. Rao told anybody who would give her a listen. She is healthy and can work hard, she said. “I desperately need a job and a steady income,” she pleaded with prospective employers.

A job fair for seniors is a paradox in a “young” city where multinational employers from Silicon Valley’s hottest social media firms and top Wall Street banks throng colleges to sign up those in their 20s even before they graduate.

The weekend gathering offered a glimpse into the social upheaval in Bangalore and other large cities where older Indians are buffeted by rising living and health care costs on the one side and fading support from their ambitious, globally mobile children.

Adding to the complexity, many Indians retire at the mandated age of 58 or 60, and social security covers only a sliver of the population.

This generation on the cusp of great change has not programmed their retirement finances properly, said Dr. Radha Murthy, an elder care pioneer and medical practitioner, whose nonprofit Nightingales Medical Trust organized the job fair. It is the first age band wedged between the traditional and the rapidly westernizing.

Ms. Rao has five children, all married, and lives in the home of her oldest daughter, a bank employee. There, Ms. Rao has gradually become confined to two rooms at the back of the house, she said. She cooks for herself and has very little independence. For instance, to listen to music she must wear headphones so as to not disturb the family.

Ms. Rao knows many others in the same boat. Across the street is an older neighbor who pines for the affections of her son who works in the United States.

“Young people these days are arrogant because they earn big money. They are only interested in themselves,” rued Ms. Rao.

The 3,000-rupee ($54) monthly pension she receives after her banker husband’s death is barely enough to survive on, so she makes pickles and snacks to sell in the neighborhood. The income from such exertions too is patchy, so Ms. Rao went to the job fair to look for a steady job and a regular income.

There were dozens of companies looking for accountants, administrators, teachers and insurance salesmen. But, alas, nobody had a job for an elderly homemaker.

The large Indian family has all but disappeared, and the pressures of urban living are being felt in nuclear families, says Ashok Dey, chief executive of an upscale retirement community called Suvidha in the suburbs of Bangalore.

The elderly who expected to be cared for in their old age, as in the generations preceding them, are finding that their busy children are chasing their own careers and ambitions and have no time, inclination or money for them, said Mr. Dey, who said he and his affluent neighbors in the Suvidha community were not in that situation.

Dr. Murthy said, “It is an India where kids no longer want to spend the summer with the grandparents; they would rather spend it at Disneyland.”

At the senior job fair, a dozen young employees from a large multinational bank were volunteers, and they highlighted the age and wage contrast. One of them, Krutika Kuppuraj, 23, an analyst, was overwhelmed by the tales of despair around her. The Indian value system emphasized respect for elders, but that is eroding fast, said Ms. Kuppuraj.

A few of the volunteers were all too aware that the meager monthly pension that some seniors received is the equivalent of what they routinely spend at a cafe o n a casual outing.

The massive turnout at Jobs 60+ may have revealed only the tip of the problem because India’s middle class is adept at keeping up social appearances. “Many middle-class Indians will not tell on their kids or let the ‘all-is-well’ facade slip,” said Dr. Murthy.

Until he retired recently, V. Mohan, 64, worked for three decades for a single employer, a university. That day at the fair, Mr. Mohan was not looking for a white-collar job. He was willing to settle for any type of work, he said.

His 6,000-rupee rent ($108) is eating into his 10,000-rupee ($180) pension, and that has made him desperate.

Of Mr. Mohan’s two children, one daughter has recently married and lives with her husband. He is supporting the other as she finishes up her Ph.D. Mr. Mohan insists that he does not want her money when she starts working.

Another recent retiree, Chandrajayanthi Mala, 60, a former medical counselor, was at the job fair because she w as already gazing into the future. Her husband is on the verge of retiring. She knows many older people have been dumped by their kids who are in “sophisticated jobs.”

“The future is scary as there is no dignity for elders in the family, no importance to their ideas,” she said.

Her son will soon be married, and she prays that he and his future wife will take care of them. Not willing to totally rely on prayers, however, she decided to join the lines at the fair.

Unfortunately, a cruel outcome awaited many elderly job seekers who did not have any computer or other marketable skills.

In Bangalore, a job market long associated with young, fickle, itinerant workers, the fair’s organizers thought they had a unique proposition: the loyalty, experience and cost effectiveness of older employees.

Yet neither Ms. Rao nor Mr. Mohan made the cut.

Saritha Rai sometimes feels she is the only person living in Bangalore who was actually raised her e. There’s never a dull moment in her mercurial metropolis. Reach her on Twitter @SarithaRai.

Views on Gun Laws Unchanged After Shooting, Poll Finds


The July 20 mass shooting in a Colorado movie theater that left 12 people dead and 58 injured has not significantly changed the way Americans view gun regulation, according to a national poll published Monday by the Pew Research Center.

The poll showed that 47 percent of the people surveyed said that regulating gun ownership was more important than gun rights, compared with 45 percent of those who said that protecting the ability of Americans to own guns was more important.

The findings of the poll, which surveyed 1,010 people July 26-29, were similar to those of a poll in April. In that survey, 45 percent said they would make gun control a priority, compared with 49 percent who said they would favor gun rights.

Other recent mass shootings also did not shift public opinion on gun regulation. The research center noted that there was no significant change in the balance of opinion about gun rights and gun control after six people were killed and 10 wounded in January 2011 in Arizona, including Representative Gabrielle Giffords, who was shot in the head.

“Nor was there a spike in support for gun control following the shooting at Virginia Tech University, in April 2007, ” the center’s report said.

On Monday, James E. Holmes, the suspect in the Colorado shooting who is said to have used three guns in the deadly rampage, made his second court appearance. My colleagues Jack Healy and Dan Frosch reported that Mr. Holmes did not show any emotion as he learned during the hearing that he faces 142 criminal charges and the possibility of the death penalty.

In Denver, gun store owners saw a surge in people wanting to buy guns immediately after the shooting. The Denver Post reported that there was a 43 percent increase in the number of people seeking background checks for gun purchases in the three days after the shooting compared with the p revious weekend.

Public opinion on gun control has been deeply divided since 2009, said the Pew Center, which has been conducting polls on this issue since 1993. Until then, the center said that people had consistently ranked regulating guns higher than protecting rights of gun owners.

Gallop has been asking about handgun bans since 1956. It published a graph showing a steady decline over the years in support for a handgun ban, reaching a record low of 26 percent in October 2011. That same Gallop poll also found that 53 percent of those polled said they favored a ban on assault weapons.

The most recent Pew Center survey showed that positions on gun control follow the partisan divide, with Democrats favoring more gun regulation 72 percent to 21 percent while Republicans support gun rights 71 percent to 26 percent. There is also a gender divide, with more men than women favoring gun rights over gun regulation.

The poll, conducted using landlines and ce llphones nationwide, has a margin of sampling error of plus or minus 4 percentage points.

What are your thoughts on gun regulation?

Power Restored to Most of North India


Power has been restored to most of North India by Monday afternoon, after an early morning grid failure that left hundreds of millions of people without electricity.

P. Uma Shankar, secretary of India’s Ministry of Power, said that by 4:00 p.m. 70 to 75 percent of northern India’s power had been restored. In Delhi, power was 90 percent restored, he said.

Power was supplied first to services such as hospitals, water pumping stations and the Delhi Metro. The shortage was met through a patchwork of sources including a thermal plant in Badarpur, several gas turbines and hydropower from the east, including a project in Tala, Bhutan.

The reason for Monday’s outage, which started at about 2:30 a.m., is still unclear.

“This is a one-off situation” said Ajai Nirula, the chief operating officer of North Delhi Power Limited, a joint venture betwee n Tata Power and the Delhi government, which distributes power to nearly 1.2 million people in the north and northwest of Delhi. “Everyone was surprised.”

Mr. Shankar said a three-person team was investigating the outage.

Most of India’s northern states use more power than they generate and rely on a complex network of contracts with power plants in other states to keep the lights on. Electricity officials sometimes characterize the situation as a battle between states to secure as much power as they need.

“Until corrective action and preventive action is taken, the system will remain under strain,” Mr. Nirula said.