THOUSANDS of people enraged by power cuts during an extreme heat wave rioted across northern India this weekend, torching electricity substations and taking hostage power company officials.
The impoverished state of Uttar Pradesh has never had enough power for its 200 million people – about the population of Brazil – and many receive only a few hours a day under normal conditions, while 63 per cent of homes have no access to electricity.
But recent temperatures that soared to 47C have caused power demand to spike at 11,000 megawatts – far higher than the state’s 8,000MW capacity – triggering blackouts that shut down fans, city water pumps and air-conditioning units.
Thousands of people stormed an electricity substation early on Friday near the state capital, Lucknow, ransacking offices and taking several workers hostage for 18 hours until police intervened yesterday morning, state utility official Narendra Nath Mullick said.
Elsewhere, an angry crowd set fire to an electricity substation in Gonda, 112 miles south-east of Lucknow.
It took three hours for firefighters to put out the flames. Another substation was set on fire in Gorakhpur, 200 miles south-east of Lucknow.
Uttar Pradesh’s chief minister, Akilesh Yadav, said officials were trying to purchase power from other states, although they were also facing shortages in the extreme heat.
Power was largely restored to most areas by yesterday afternoon, leading dozens of people who were still protesting outside Lucknow’s Indira Nagar substation to disperse.
A resident of Kanpur Rakesh, said hot summers have left people helpless and they are looking for ways to protect themselves when venturing out in the sun.
People are seen carrying umbrellas and wearing protective clothing to protect themselves from the sweltering heat.
The Times of India pictured patients in hospital being treated for heatstroke.
In Gujarat, at the Kamla Nehru Zoological Garden in Ahmedabad staff hosed down overheated animals including elephants and 15 miles outside Ahmedabad, at the Asha Foundation animal shelter, monkeys were handed ice creams to keep cool.
Residents have been particularly angry about the power cuts after receiving reliable supplies throughout the Indian elections, which ended on 16 May.
Since then, only some regions have been guaranteed uninterrupted power supplies, while others have received little to none.
The High Court in the city of Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh is now hearing a petition alleging discrimination in power distribution, and has asked the government of new prime minister Narendra Modi to explain why some regions allegedly were receiving preferential treatment.
Those regions include the city of Varanasi – the parliamentary constituency of Hindu nationalist Modi – as well as constituencies held by Yadav and other top officials in Uttar Pradesh’s ruling Samajawadi party.
Meteorological officials said temperatures would probably remain high until at least Tuesday in Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Delhi and other areas of northern India.
“People are advised not to venture out of their homes,” said Lucknow-based forecaster JP Gupta.