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Mainstream, VOL L, No 33, August 4, 2012

Blackout in India, Team Anna’s New Decision


Thursday 9 August 2012, by SC


In the early hours of July 30, seven States in North India—Haryana, Punjab, J&K, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, UP, Rajasthan—alongwith the Capital Delhi and the Union Territory of Chandigarh suffered their worst power outage in a decade when the northern power grid collapsed. Essential services were revived in a few hours no doubt, but full restoration of power supply in the affected regions took far longer, that is, more than half-a-day. But that this was not a one-off incident became clear the following afternoon when the northern, eastern and northeastern grids collapsed in quick succession leaving as many as 22 States without power till late evening. As has been widely reported, the blackout threw daily life, rail and air services as also industrial production completely out of gear.

The national press has justifiably assailed the concerned authorities for this shocking development. As The Hindu pointed out,

Like other parts of the world, India has experienced major power outages before. But unlike elsewhere, where grid collapses are usually caused by freakish acts of nature, the latest darkness at noon in India is the result of poor long-term planning and abysmal lack of grid discipline. Several reasons have been attributed for the sudden collapse, but the most likely seems to be the perennial problem of overdrawing by one or more States. On July 30, 2012 the authorities had to requisition power from Bhutan, and draw from the western and eastern grids to maintain essential supplies in Delhi for instance. That it should have failed for the second consecutive day is shameful.

But the global media’s comments were devastating, to say the least. Without mincing words The Guardian observed:

To leave one in 20 people on the globe’s surface without electricity, that lifeblood of modern society, in the hairdryer heat of an Indian summer is unfortunate. To do it again to one in 12 of the world’s population a day later is an unpardonable carelessness...

And The Wall Street Journal underscored with biting sarcasm:
Capping a surreal day when the power outage dominated cable news channels—which continued to broadcast for the benefit of those who still had power—Prime Minister Manmohan Singh gave an effective promotion to Power Minister Sushilkumar Shinde, on whose watch the blackouts have occurred. Mr Shinde was named the next Home Minister...

However, without displaying any element of self-criticism in the face of what had happened, the Power Minister-turned-Home Minister declared that his performance as the head of the Power Ministry had been “excellent”, insisting that while in 2003 America took four days to restore power, “we got electricity in a matter of hours... people should appreciate that.” About his stint as the Power Minister he claimed that since 2005 “we have electrified 1.86 lakh villages”.

None contests his claim. But this was not the occasion to make such an assertion. And a bit of self-introspection on his part would not have dented his “performance” in any way.

Of course, P. Chidambaram’s transfer to the Finance Ministry from Home is welcome not because he can work wonders as the new Finance Minister with such a financial whiz-kid as Raghuram Rajan by his side (although the corporate lobby has high hopes on this score) but because his departure from the Home Ministry was long overdue given the grave consequences of his military operations against the Maoists, the latest massacre of tribals in Bijapur (Chhattisgarh) being testimony to the flawed nature of the military strategy he adopted that ends in decimating the tribals in the name of liquidating the Maoists.

There is apprehension that Corporate Affairs Minister Veerappa Moily, whose administrative accumen is not unknown, won’t be able to do justice to the Power Ministry which he will have to handle simultaneously with his original portfolio. However, he has started his innings well with a sense of urgency by convening a meeting of the States’ Power Ministers and without trying to pass the buck on anyone. But he has such a daunting task at hand that one feels a fullfledged Minister was of utmost necessity to pilot the Ministry.

While on this subject the manner of Railway Minister Mukul Roy’s functioning is a sad commentary on our politicians who do not take their ministerial responsibility with the degree of seriousness it deserves. Mukul’s behaviour and performance also have the potential of eroding the standing of TMC supremo Mamata Banerjee (as he is actually working as her deputy in the party organisation).

Meanwhile regardless of a section of the media’s warped vision, the massive public rallies at Jantar Mantar for the past several days have once again demonstrated the hold of Anna Hazare and his team on the public at large. It is good that those who were on fast, including Anna and Arvind Kejriwal, to buttress the cause of eradicating corruption in high places and adopting an effective Jan Lokpal Bill, have decided to withdraw it following the appeal of eminent citizens headed by the distinguished former Supreme Court judge, Justice V.R. Krishna Iyer. The team’s decision to enter the political arena is also welcome but one is not sure how far Anna and his associates would be able to fight money power, the root of corruption in the era of neo-liberalism in this country, that plays a vital role in electoral politics today. At the same time it is essential for them to forge strong bonds with grassroots movements and the common people in the rural areas who are the principal victims of not only backbreaking exploitation and poverty but also all-pervasive corruption. And while doing so Team Anna must raise its powerful voice against corporate corruption that is assuming menacing proportions of late.

August 2, S.C.

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