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India Grapples With Huge Power Shortfalls

India is coping with huge energy shortfalls as a growing economy raises demand for power. But as Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the government has pledged to cover the gap in five years.

Temperatures frequently soar above 40 degrees Celsius across the vast plains of India as the summer heat peaks. But for most people, like 54-year-old Renuka Taimni in New Delhi, the sweltering heat is worsened by the frequent power outages.

"The frig did not work, the AC does not work, brings life to a standstill, you can't do anything, you just sit waiting for the power to come back," said Taimni.

The situation is equally bad across other big cities such as Kolkata or Mumbai.

And it is much worse in smaller towns and rural areas, where power blackouts can last for more than 12 hours a day. Last month, violent protests erupted across India's most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, as long outages left people without fans and even drinking water.

Power blackouts have been a regular feature of life in India for many years. But a five-year-long economic boom has intensified these shortages as expanding industries guzzle more power, and a growing middle class can afford more air conditioners, refrigerators and washing machines.

An energy advisor to the Confederation of Indian Industry, V. Raghuraman, says the current power capacity generation is about 14 percent short of demand.

"For the last 15-16 years we have not been able to add capacities required. The power-demand supply gap has been actually increasing year after year," said Raghuraman.

The government has promised to change that, and provide power to all by 2012.

Industry experts like Raghuraman say the situation will improve in the coming years because massive investments are in the pipeline.

"The investments are more than $200 billion say in the next five years … we believe a good amount of capacity will come in the next five to six years," said Raghuraman.

The power plants being built by the government are expected to add 70,000 megawatts of power generation. They include thermal and hydroelectric plants.

The private sector is also making large investments in power projects.

However, skeptics fear that many of these projects will face delays, and the gap between demand and supply will continue to grow in the coming years.

But optimists hope the power sector might replicate the success of the telecommunication industry. A decade ago, it could take years to obtain a phone line, but now the privatized industry is one of the fastest-growing in the world.