Earlier today northern India suffered a massive power outage, affecting 370 million people for more than 12 hours. That would make it the most widespread outage in world history. Authorities in India suggested the outage may have been caused by northern states drawing more than their allocated share of power, says the Financial Times.The outage is impressive in its magnitude, but it hardly comes as a surprise. Even during the best of times, India has rolling blackouts due to an electricity generation shortfall of 10 percent at peak hours.Meanwhile, the northern states are trying to help struggling farmers deal with weak monsoon rains by subsidizing electricity. This has exacerbated the power shortfall, as the Wall Street Journal points out:
government giveaways in the form of free electricity to farmers and reluctance to raise power tariffs to sufficiently cover costs due to political pressure have drained cash reserves from the largely state-run electricity distribution companies, leaving them with mounting debt and less able to purchase power.
Currently India’s power grid is being squeezed from two sides. On one side, an antiquated power grid and poor infrastructure can’t distribute the country’s power effectively. On the other, India’s enormous government bureaucracy is extremely ineffective at managing power distribution and can’t even make the most of the poor infrastructure it has. As a result, surplus power in eastern India can’t get to the north, and India has been forced to buy power from neighboring Bhutan to alleviate today’s outage.Antiquated infrastructure and bureaucracy are two of the many problems holding India back. If India wishes to assume a role as a major power and serious competitor to China, it will have to deal with these problems. In a country as large and diverse as India, this will be a difficult task indeed.