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Mumbai power blackout shadows life in India’s ‘Maximum City’

A woman uses a battery light as she tends to a customer during a power outage in Mumbai.
A woman uses a battery light as she tends to a customer during a power outage in Mumbai. REUTERS - NIHARIKA KULKARNI
4 min

A massive power shutdown in Mumbai has stranded commuters, hit banking services and pushed India’s financial capital into disarray, as hospitals treating coronavirus patients scrambled to ensure their emergency power generators could handle the outage. 

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India’s state-run railways said the breakdown, the worst in two years in the city of nearly 20 million residents, was because of a grid failure at Tata Power Co. Ltd, one of Mumbai’s three power suppliers.

Commuters were seen walking on rail tracks while thousands more were stranded in carriages or at train stations after the lights went out at rush-hour in and around Mumbai, capital of the western Indian state of Maharashtra.

“I just finished night shift at work but now I am stranded here because of this power outage,” said office worker Ajay Goel at one of Mumbai’s many stand-still stations.

Mumbai’s suburban train network transports more than seven million commuters per day, but its operations have been limited because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hospitals on backup generators

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray ordered an enquiry into the breakdown, which according to eyewitnesses also stranded residents in their apartment block elevators.

“Thackeray discussed the power outage with Minister for Energy Nitin Raut and directed that immediate efforts be made to restore power supply,” his office said in a statement before electricity was restored to some districts.

His government also asked the authorities to ensure uninterrupted power supply to Mumbai hospitals, many treating Covid-19 patients. The medical facilities were also ordered to tank up their emergency power generator sets.

Flight services from Mumbai were unaffected but officials and media reports said the power breakdown shut off traffic lights which delayed passengers trying to reach the city airport.

Bombay Stock Exchange, India’s largest, said its operations were unaffected but the blackout delayed college exams.

5 million homes hit

Some Mumbai residents such as Sachin Bangera of People’s for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA) seemed better organised.

“As soon the power went out, I called the caretakers at the PETA-India office to make sure our rescued animals there and those we have put up for adoption are comfortable,” Bangera, a resident of Andheri West, told RFI.

But Lester D’Souza, a company consultant, said the blackout disrupted work.

“It happened around 10:30 AM and has affected all essential services like the internet, trains...making it very hard to work,” D’Souza told RFI from his home in Malad West, a Mumbai suburb which had no electricity until 3:00 PM.

The Indian Express newspaper estimated the grid collapse cut off power supply to around five million households and businesses in Mumbai, which is also the hub of India’s entertainment industry.

Blackout startles Bollywood

Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bachchan appealed to residents to remain calm as engineers worked to restore power to Mumbai.

Abhishekh Bachchan, the superstar’s actor son also poked fun at the half-day blackout in Mumbai, which also snapped internet services and affected those working from home because of the pandemic.

Several other movie icons also reacted to the disruption as #powercut trended on social media.

 

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