The chief minister of the state of Gujarat in India, Narendra Modi, is hailed in media for making Gujarat a power surplus state. The electricity situation in not just Gujarat, but in most of the southern states in India is relatively much better than in the North.
However, most of the Indians inhabiting the electricity-starved states of the North have either grown insensitive to power failure or have learned to trivialize it.
Tulika, a student of class X, received a (SMS) joke on her cell from her friend when north India was plunged into darkness: “Dear Rajnikant, if u hav dne charging ur laptop den pls give the electricity back….Regards, NORTH INDIA” Rajnikant, a south Indian film star, enjoys an iconic status across the nation. The joke perhaps sums up the infrastructural divide between the North and the South. It is, nonetheless, the quality of Indians to laugh away their woes that helps them sustain through tough times.
While children are gifted to laugh away their challenges, adults can be more cynical. Mr. P.K (full name not identified on request) works in the government sector and blames it all on “corruption” and “mismanagement” in the power sector. “While the lifts were not working, the ACs in officers’ chambers never stopped working for once,” says Mr. P.K, highlighting selfishness of the bureaucratic class.
Power failure and cuts are perennial in India since decades. To most people in India, it was simply a power cut of a longer duration than other days. Otherwise, the day when the major grids failed in India, was as lackluster as the rest of the days. An average Indian is used to delayed trains, hospitals sans power, and traffic jams with or without electricity. According to Mamta, a housewife, “Power cut did not make a difference. We cooked, and cleaned clothes as usual. The children went to school and came back from there as usual.”
Dr. Anju runs her clinical practice and attends to some of the hospitals in the national capital region. She is unfazed: “The private hospitals have their own power back up arrangements. The hospitals I visit worked normally except the lifts that were not working. The patients did not face any problem, though I am not sure about the out patient department,” but she went on to add as an after thought, “whatever has happened should not happen even by accident because patients and their attendants suffer a lot”.
Most of the households, offices and establishments are equipped with alternative arrangements (gensets) that give them 24x7 energy back-up, at least in metropolitan and bigger urban centers afforded by the rising income of the middle class Indians. Yet the growth of urban centers cannot hide the paradox of the affluent and deprived India, with large rural and peripheral regions home to 70 percent Indians under severe infrastructural constraints.
At the time when north India plunged into darkness, Anna Hazare, the 74-year-old Indian activist fighting corruption, had been on a fast along with some of his co-workers in the capital Delhi with his demand to introduce the bill against corruption in the Parliament and to initiate an immediate inquiry against 15 cabinet ministers allegedly involved in mega-scams. According to sources in the Anna camp, his campaign drew a crowd of about 75,000 people compelling the government to resort to every possible trick to disperse the mob. The multiple grid failure was, according to sources in the Anna camp, a deliberate sabotage to break the backbone of the movement. However, if the humid Delhi heat could sustain that day, the swelling crowd might have dispersed, but luckily the weather turned pleasant as it drizzled that day.
“This appears to be a far-fetched idea. It defies common sense,” says David, who works in the National Thermal Power Corporation, adding “the peak demand for power was much more than the supply leading to the grid failure.”
However, Dr Sudhakar Choudhary, a practicing Supreme Court, lawyer strongly feels, “it was entirely the failure of the government and the government’s policies. It is the clear manifestation of corruption from top to bottom. State Electricity Boards are the dens of corruption. The government’s policy of privatization of electricity supply is to camouflage the policy failure. The corporate sector’s prime motive is profit. It is totally the failure of the government. The government should take lessons from Norway, which has enough of electricity to supply to Europe.
It is shameful for the government that they have not been able to meet the basic infrastructural requirements even 60 years after independence even as India is abundant in thermal and water resources.”
Despite the divergent opinions across the segment, there remain some tough questions that no one has the answer to – (i) Why this kind of power failure happened first time in Independent India’s history? (ii) If it was indeed the states over-drawing their energy quota, this is not the first time they are doing so, and there are in-built mechanisms to restrain a state when they reach their limit. (iii) Why was the energy minister promoted to home portfolio immediately after the failure of the ministry?