India Grapples with Second Power Grid Failure


Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 14:43 PM EDT, 31 July 2012

Indian Boy Waits on Powerless Train, Photo by MultimediapreNEW DELHI – On, Monday, 30 July 2012, India suffered a major power grid failure which affected over half of India's 1.2 billion people or more than the combined populations of the United States, Canada, and Mexico according to 2011 census reports.

By early evening officials were reporting that around 40% of power was back up, but electricity had not been restored to many residents who live in or have been stranded in the heat inundated capital. In order to restore this power, India was forced to buy extra power from Bhutan, a tiny country that lies between India and China.

Bhutan is reportedly less than 40,000 sq. km/15,000 sq. miles, and has a population of roughly 700,000 people, yet the power that India purchased from them helped restore lights to more 300 million people affected by the blackout.

Just as India seemed on the verge of moving into the amelioration versus crisis management phase of this problem, another collapse occurred on Tuesday, shortly after 13:00 pm and cascaded throughout the eastern and northern grids in quick succession. This latest power failure has affected an additional 600 million people.

These two power failures have been identified as the world’s largest power grid collapse, though India experienced a similar power crisis in the northern grid in 2001. Though this grid failure is the result of an overtaxed, non-redundant power system, it should also serve as a grim reminder of the vulnerability of any power grid system due to poor planning, reliance on a single source of power, or natural and man-made disasters.

In the case of India, these two disasters are the result of weakened infrastructure, the lack of power sharing agreements between states, reliance on coal to the exclusion of alternatives power options i.e. water and nuclear, as well as an underdeveloped crisis-management system. This crisis is an unfortunate road bump for a nation according to a Morgan Stanley report, is poised to accelerate its growth rate to 9-9.5% over 2013-15.

This growth is being driven by a sterling demographic dividend, continuing structural reform and globalization, but power shortages, dilapidated roads, and an antiquated train network has weighed heavily on the country's efforts to industrialize. Despite Morgan Stanley’s optimistic forecast, India like many other nations are grappling with the deleterious impact of the global economic slowdown.

On Tuesday, the central bank cut its economic growth outlook for the fiscal year that ends in March 2013 to 6.5 percent, from the 7.3 percent assumption made by economists earlier this year.

Unfortunately, in the wake of this crisis, the government’s previous decision to scale back on a strategic initiative to invest $1 trillion into infrastructure over the next five years seems ill-timed. As with most emerging nations, rolling blackouts are commonplace and many businesses and affluent home owners have backup generators. However, generators have a finite capacity that far exceeds the demands placed upon them by the health and humans services and transportation sector among others.

In various news reports, Indians have expressed embarrassment of their government’s failure to anticipate and rectify the systemic weaknesses in the power grid system before this catastrophic failure. They have every right to expect more from the government since most of the electricity distribution and transmission is produced and managed by the states. Less than a quarter of power generated in India is provided by private companies headquartered in Delhi, Mumbai, and Kolkata.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh reiterated his vow to fast-track stalled power and infrastructure projects, while India’s federal power minister Sushil Kumar Shinde blamed the blackout on certain states that supposedly had overdrawn  power beyond their quotas. Indians seem to have little faith in either official who seem more concerned with their political careers than serving the people.

Today, Singh announced that Shinde is being promoted to the critical position of home ministry which many view as overt favoritism since he  has performed so poorly in his current position. For his part, Singh's prior commitment to revive India's flagging economy through investment in various sectors which would ostensibly create more jobs has failed to materialize and thus earned him criticism for dragging his feet.

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Monsoon Flooding Kills 79 in India


Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 22:15 PM EDT, 2 July 2012

Indian Flood Victims Fleeing, Photo by Joshua WieseGUWAHATI, India – The Brahmaputra River overflowed its banks killing at least 79 people. The river became engorged following torrential monsoon rains which have inundated the states of Assam, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur and Meghalaya.

Farmers depend upon the monsoon season which last from June to September to irrigate their plants. Unfortunately, this normally life-giving force has reaped untold destruction and death in its stead.

The extent of the devastation was compounded by the swathes of slums inhabited by most of the 2.2 million displaced victims. Many of these people lived in makeshift shanty towns in abodes constructed at best with corrugated steel and at worst with cardboard boxes. Most of the casualties were inhabitants who drowned while trying to escape flood water while others perished in mudslides.

According to news sources nearly 500,000 people have fled to relief camps with their meager belongings. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said “The central and state governments are doing everything possible to provide relief to the people. We have opened makeshift relief camps for the displaced, while many more were forced to take shelter on raised platforms and in tarpaulin tents.” (Source: Agence France-Presse)

In neighboring Bangladesh over 900,000 inhabitants have been displaced as a result of flooding and mudslides, and at last count the death toll has increased from 108 to 123. The government has also instituted emergency housing and relief efforts; however, unlike Assam state, the flood waters are reportedly receding.

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Exclusive ICBM Club Gains Member


Ayanna Nahmias, Editor-in-ChiefLast Modified: 23:23 PM EDT, 19 April 2012

India's Agni V Missile Launch, April 2012NEW DEHLI, India – Following close on the heels of North Korea’s failed rocket launch earlier this week, the Indian government successfully launched the Agni-V from India’s east coast. According to other reports, Agni (means "fire" in Hindi and Sanskrit), a fitting term for a missile that is capable of carrying a nuclear payload.

The Agni-V has a range of more than 5,000km (3,100 miles) and it is completely manufactured in India. It is 17.5m tall, solid-fuelled, has three stages and a launch weight of 50 tons. It has cost more than 2.5bn rupees ($480m; £307m) to develop.

The missile was launched from Wheeler Island off the coast of the eastern state of Orissa at 0807 local time (0237GMT) on Thursday, and it took approximately 20 minutes to hit its target somewhere near Indonesia in the Indian Ocean. The launch theoretically proved that India possesses the technology to fire nuclear warheads at Beijing and Shanghai, China.

India’s Prime Minister Manmohan Singh congratulated the scientists for the "successful launch" of the missile. He said that the launch “represents another milestone in our quest for our security, preparedness and to explore the frontiers of science.” However, most speculate the real reason for the missile launch was to demonstrate India’s growing prowess in the region.

Although, there has been no direct confrontation between China and India, with populations of approximately 1.3bn and 1.2bn respectively, these two juggernauts are in a tight race to control the economic, political and military destiny of the region. Prior to the launch today, China was the only Asian nation counted as a member of the elite nuclear weapons club.

Other members include Russia, France, the US and UK which already have long-range, Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles (ICBM), although the nuclear weapons possessed by these nations have much greater range than the Agni-V. Israel is also thought to possess nuclear weapons though this has not been confirmed.

The international community seems to have tacitly accepted India’s nuclear program and its development of ICBMs. India's induction into the elite ICBM club is much less contentious than bids for entree by North Korea or Iran. In fact, the greatest criticism to the news of the Agni-V launch centered on its cost versus the per capita income of its citizenry and how much India spends on education by comparison.

It is a specious argument at best because most nations, particularly those with large, organized militaries, spend a significant portion of their budgets on defense against real, imagined and manufactured enemies.

The threat of use of nuclear weapons to deter first strike is a relic of the Cold War era and an unfortunate legacy of the U.S. and U.S.S.R. nuclear strategic policy. Although we now live in a world order in which rogue nations and groups have greater access to weapons of mass destruction, many nations continue to implement the Cold War paradigm of deterrence through stockpiling of nuclear weaponry.

With regard to India’s Agni-V launch, a spokesman for China's Foreign Ministry, Liu Weimin, said his country was not threatened by the test. "China and India are large developing nations. We are not competitors but partners. We believe that both sides should cherish the hard-won good state of affairs at present, and work hard to uphold friendly strategic co-operation to promote joint development and make positive contributions towards maintaining peace and stability in the region."