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India power outage leaves hundreds of millions in the dark

A barber cuts hair by candlelight during the power outage in Kolkata. Photo: Associated Press
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Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said it would take at least 10 to 12 hours to restore power and asked office workers to go home.

"The situation is very grave. We are doing everything to restore power," West Bengal Power Minister Manish Gupta said.

New Delhi's Metro rail system, which serves about 1.8 million people a day, immediately shut down for the second day in a row. Police said they managed to evacuate Delhi's busy Rajiv Chowk station in under half an hour before closing the shutters.

S.K. Jain, 54, said he was on his way to file his income tax return when the Metro closed and now would almost certainly miss the deadline. Hours later, the government announced it was giving taxpayers an extra month to file because of the chaos.

Tuesday's blackout eclipsed Monday's in India, which covered territory including 370 million people. The third largest blackout affected 100 million people in Indonesia in 2005, according to reports by The Associated Press.

India's demand for electricity has soared along with its economy in recent years, but utilities have been unable to meet the growing needs. India's Central Electricity Authority reported power deficits of more than 8 percent in recent months.

In addition, vast amounts of power are pirated through unauthorized wiring that taps into the electrical system.

The power deficit was worsened by a weak monsoon that lowered hydroelectric generation and kept temperatures higher, further increasing electricity usage as people seek to cool off.

But any connection to the grid remains a luxury for many. One-third of India's households do not even have electricity to power a light bulb, according to last year's census.

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