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Northern India Sweating Out Summer Power Shortage


Temperatures in northern India, soaring above the 50-degree Celsius mark, are heightening the discomfort of widespread power cuts and raising fears of a wider power-grid breakdown. VOA's Steve Herman reports from New Delhi.

Heat is blamed for killing more than 100 people in northern India in recent weeks and that toll is expected to rise with temperatures continuing above 45 degrees Celsius in some areas. The thermometer in one desert town in the state of Rajasthan hit 51 degrees on Monday.

In urban areas, power-hungry air conditioners running around the clock have put a strain on local transformers and the regional electrical grid. As a result, many neighborhoods in New Delhi, due to rolling blackouts and equipment failures, are enduring power cuts lasting up to 15 hours a day.

The capital on Monday used a record amount of electricity - exceeding 4,000 megawatts for the first time.

Concerns are increasing that the situation will worsen and the regional grid will overload.

For years one of the electrical engineers in charge of the grid was K. Ramanathan. He plays down fears of a sustained regional blackout.

"I know it is really miserable but I think these outages are perhaps localized.," he said. "So I do not foresee any serious blackout. That is what I hope - it will not happen."

Now a distinguished fellow at The Energy and Resources Institute, a private research organization, Ramanathan, cautions that the patience of the public, which is sweating it out, could short circuit.

"You cannot take it lightly because people will go to the streets. There will be problems because socially, politically, it is a sensitive issue, especially in summer," he noted. "So that is why the government has gotten into it in a big way now."

If India's power ministry is to be believed everyone in the country will have access to electricity by 2012. But many experts question whether so many new power-generating units can be built that quickly.

For now, most rural Indians do not have access to the grid and cannot afford expensive generators. For them, there will be no quick relief in sight until the monsoon clouds are spotted. That could still be weeks away.

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