NEW DELHI: Six hundred million people in India, half the country, were plunged into darkness yesterday when a massive power outage struck across the north and east of the country.
Both the northern and eastern power grids failed, the second day in a row whole grids had collapsed under the weight of massive power demands.
But as the country struggled to cope the minister responsible won a promotion. Late yesterday the Power Minister, Sushil Kumar Shinde, was set to be announced as taking over the powerful Home Affairs portfolio.
India is a country with chronic power shortages. Demand regularly exceeds supply by 10 per cent during summer.
But this week's shortages, the worst in a decade and described as the largest in the world, have been blamed particularly on India's northern states drawing more power than they are entitled to. Uttar Pradesh, a state with a population of more than 200 million, has been accused of tripping the nation's power grid both days.
On Monday only the northern electricity grid failed. By late yesterday (Sydney time) power was still down in the north and the east, with estimates suggesting it would take up to six hours to restore. Hundreds of trains were stopped and traffic lights were out across the country.
India's continuing power crises are a growing concern for its embattled government, as it tries to restart sluggish economic growth. The Confederation of Indian Industry's director-general, Chandrajit Banerjee, said the country's development was being cruelled by its inability to keep the lights on.
''Today's grid failure was extremely unfortunate and it has impacted not just businesses but also essential services across north India,'' he said.
An estimated 300 million people live without any access to electricity at all. As these people come onto the grid, and industry continues to expand, energy consumption is tipped to grow at 7 per cent a year, far beyond the country's capability to supply.
India's structural problems have been exacerbated by an especially long, hot summer.
Similarly, Pakistan has been stricken by rolling blackouts over the past three months, which have sparked violent protests across the country.
Rioters have burned down police stations, stoned politicians' homes and burned trains over the continuing outages which have left cities without power for up to 12 hours a day, and cut villages off completely.