The power crisis and heatwave, which some activists say has caused
dozens of deaths, is one of the first major challenges for Prime
Minister Narendra Modi, who was elected three weeks ago partly on
promises to provide reliable electricity supplies.
In Delhi, where temperatures have hit 45 Celsius (113 Fahrenheit)
for six days straight, residents marched through the streets in
protests organized by opposition parties on Thursday. In the north
of the city, people enraged by night-long outages clashed with
police and torched a bus, media reported.
Delhi is suffering staggered cuts as power companies ration spikes
in demand as people crank up air coolers to fight the heat. Modi has
inherited the shortages from his predecessors, and power
distribution is partially the responsibility of state governments.
Residents staged sit-in protests outside electricity substations in
the state of Uttar Pradesh late on Wednesday, days after protesters
had set substations on fire and taken power officials hostage after
weeks of daily blackouts.
"God alone can provide any relief from the prevailing power crisis,"
said A.P. Misra, director of Uttar Pradesh Power Corporation. Having
drawn on all available supplies, Misra said power would only return
once rain arrived and demand fell.
The protests and collapse in the power supply underline how
ill-equipped much of India remains to sudden surges in temperature,
which many worry are happening more frequently because of changes in
the climate and rapid urbanization.
For L.D. Chopra, a 76-year old asthmatic in Delhi, the power cuts
almost mean the difference between life and death.
Chopra was taken to hospital on May 31 after falling unconscious
when a machine he depends on for oxygen support switched off in the
outages, he told Reuters.
Like Chopra's home in the east of the city, much of Delhi has been
without power for 10 hours per day in the last week, after a jump in
demand and damage from a thunderstorm overwhelmed the grid, causing
Seventy-nine unidentified bodies were discovered in Delhi in the
last four days, said the Center of Holistic Development, a group
working to end homelessness. Founder Sunil Kumar Aledia attributed
the high number of deaths to the extreme weather.
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India has long-suffered deadly heatwaves. Periods of extreme
temperatures have led to thousands of deaths since the 1990s,
largely in rural areas where basic infrastructure is poor.
R.K. Jenamani, director of the meteorological office in Delhi, said
his research did not point to any long-term trend of rising
But a combination of urbanization, extensive use of concrete and
more cars did appear to be changing microclimates within and near
cities, exacerbating the impact of heatwaves, he said.
Temperatures were rising faster earlier in the day and staying
higher for longer in congested built-up areas, he said.
The World Bank warned in a report last year that parts of India were
rapidly becoming "heat-islands", and that urban planners needed to
act to counteract the dangers.
"We are witnessing more serious and more extreme events," said
Anumita Roychowdhury at India's Center for Science and Environment (CSE),
warning about the impact on public health.
The heatwave has led to a jump in deadly ozone pollution in Delhi to
levels that exceed government limits, the CSE said, with levels
rising up to 315 percent in the city since June 1.
"We need to watch and assess this trend very carefully in this
climate-challenged world," said Roychowdhury.
(Reporting by Tommy Wilkes; additional reporting by Anindito
Mukherjee in New Dekhi and Sharat Pradhan in Lucknow; Editing by
Frank Jack Daniel and Robert Birsel)
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