Power cuts and Power Struggles in India

India is one of the world’s fastest growing industrialised nations. With a population of 1.21 billion people, the country now faces the challenge of passing on the fruits of its rocketing industrial productivity to its people, tackling the stark social divisions between rich and poor and ensuring that basic domestic commodities are available nationwide. As the widespread power cuts at the beginning of this week, which affected huge swathes of Northern India suggest, this will be no mean feat.

According to both The Guardian and the BBC, approximately 700 million people were left without power over the course of the three day black out from 30/07/2012 to 01/08/2012 (dd/mm/yyyy) meaning that transport, medical and communication infrastructures, to name a few, ground to a halt, causing chaos across the 20 affected states. Tales of miners trapped below ground and hospital machinery being operated manually indicate the extent to which power supply affects the everyday running of a nation and the welfare of its people.

The reason for this power cut? System overload. According to The Guardian the Indian outgoing power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde, claimed that the power failure was caused by certain regions using more than their fair share of energy from the grid, causing it to trip and therefore cutting supply. Although the scale and duration of the recent power cut hit the headlines, this does not appear to be the first time India has suffered problems with its electricity supply as it struggles to keep up with the energy needs of its billions of consumers.

The majority of India’s energy comes from coal. Home to some of the largest coal mines in the world, until now the country has been able to fuel the energy infrastructure demanded by its inhabitants. However, as the population grows, the wealth of the middle classes increases, allowing them to buy more and more electrical goods, and the power networks extend into regions that were previously left without electricity, the self-sufficiency of India’s coal production begins to disappear off over the horizon. Now the country is left in a situation where its coal extraction is not efficient enough to satisfy its consumers and importing foreign coal far exceeds the financial means of the nation. The country’s gas output does little to alleviate the situation and scepticism over the safety of nuclear energy after the Fukushima meltdown last year remains rife.

The instability of India’s power network has significant developmental consequences for the country. In order for industry to advance and the wealth of the country to increase, basic structures such as power supply networks must be in full working order. However, as industry advances, the demands exerted on these structures also escalate. The country effectively becomes trapped in a vicious circle of supply and demand.

With already significant divisions between rich and poor in the country, it is also important that social separatism is not exacerbated and that those living in poverty also reap the benefits of the country’s new industrialised age. On the side-lines of India’s energy crisis also lies the ever-present environmental debate, as the global aim in reducing use of fossil fuels puts increasing pressure on the country’s government and economy and environmental concerns that an increase in coal mining will destroy the valuable habitats of some of India’s endangered species continue to wage war against energy providers in the country.


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