India in the Dark: Photos of the Largest Blackout in History

By Max Fisher

Sweeping outages in India have left approximately 670 million people there without power. There are more Indians who have no lights, air conditioning, or refrigeration (save those powered by private generators); whose streets have no traffic lights, subways, or street lamps; than there are people living in all the U.S., Canada, Mexico, and Japan put together. It appears to be the single largest power outage in the modern history of electricity. The second largest was yesterday's outage in northern India, which has since spread. The third largest left 100 million Indonesian without power in 2005. For comparison, the largest blackout in American history, in 2003, affected 45 million people. Indian officials say they have still not deduced the source of the problem.


On a regular day, during peak hours, India's grid can only meet about 90 percent of the electricity demand. Meanwhile, the Indian government is also struggling to deal with a major drought. The convergence of these two calamities is a reminder of how far India still has to go before it can duplicate the sort of modernization and rise from poverty that China and other East Asia countries have achieved. Below, the story of over a half-billion people without power, told in photos.

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Traffic is gridlocked across urban New Delhi, a city of 14 million. With the public train system shut down and the city's already raucous traffic made even more dangerous and impassible by the lack of power lights, the city has been described as "in chaos." No one is yet sure what the disruption to these northern cities will mean for India's already faltering economy. (AP)

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Girls study educational Islamic texts at a madrasa in Noida, on the outskirts of New Delhi, India's capital. (Reuters)

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Stranded passengers wander rails at the New Delhi station after hours of inactivity. Some Indian media has noted that the blackout has forced members of New Delhi's middle and upper classes to experience life as the far more numerous lower class does on a daily basis. The sprawling poor neighborhoods of India's rapidly growing cities endure regular, if typically briefer, outages in power and public services. (AP)

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A girl looks through the windows of one of the many trains stalled along India's enormous rail system, a legacy of British imperial rule. (Reuters)

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A police officer in the city of Chandigarh reads documents with the help of a flashlight. Basic government services, which in some areas in still modernizing, have been hit hard by the outages. (Reuters)

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A barber in Calcutta cuts a customer's hair by candlelight. With the blackout now in its second day, many Indians are trying to push ahead with daily life. (AP)

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A New Delhi shopkeeper fiddles with a generator outside of his storefront. India's economy, the ninth largest in the world, has been growing rapidly in large part as its enormous rural population moves into cities. This means that the Indian economy is fueled largely by its cities, and because those cities run on electricity, today's loss is both a symbolic and actual blow to the country's effort to lifts its hundreds of millions of impoverished citizens above the poverty line. (AP)

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Commuters line up at a New Delhi metro station, perhaps a bit optimistically. (AP)

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Indian soldiers guard the entrance to a closed metro station. So far, neither looting nor other crimes appear to have been much a problem, though they have been endemic in other blackouts. Some Americans may recall the disintegration of order in New York City during the 1977 blackout there (thankfully, the looting was not repeated in the 2003 U.S. blackout).

This article available online at:

http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/07/india-in-the-dark-photos-of-the-largest-blackout-in-history/260537/