The 2001 Northern Grid Failure: When old technologies became new again!

The Indian twitter is rife with news about the a power grid failure in Northern India that plunged seven states into darkness at 1 am.  6-7 hrs later there is some hope that authorities may fix something.  They say this is the worst such power failure since 2001.  I have a story to tell from that one.

We started on the afternoon of 1st January from Chandigarh and reached Ambala ( my father was posted there and we had to attend a new year party ( which is also the Raising day of the Army Medical Corps). On arriving we learnt there was no electricity. However soon, we realized not just our neighbourhood but the entire cantonment had no electricity. Yet the Army being the Army, the party was organized using heavy duty diesel guzzling gensets.

The power didn’t return even the next morning.  A call with grandparents in Chandigarh confirmed that even they had no power supply that night. This seemed serious. We started driving towards Delhi and reached by afternoon. The power supply to  our hosts house, being in the heart of central Delhi, had just been restored that morning, but we learnt that most of North India had been in darkness for between 20-24 hrs already and no concrete information to a solution seemed in immediate sight. The only source of instant news then was Television  ( which most couldn’t watch) and newspapers would come in only the next day. Few people had cellular phones as incoming calls were charged.

We had to catch a train to Jodhpur later that night ( Jan 2nd) from Delhi Cantonment ( a suburban station southwest of the city. By word of mouth we were told that most trains were cancelled or delayed. Calling the railway inquiry in such times of chaos is anyway not advisable. So, late evening, when we left for the Delhi Cantt. station, we realized that indeed the rest of the city, outside the Inner VIP circle was still dark. It gets dark by 6 pm at that time of the year.

The Delhi Cantt station was like a horror movie set. A few men wearing shawls that covered them completely to only reveal their eyes, carrying lanterns so that people could see things. The display boards rendered non functional. One generator set was powering the station master’s room and the PA system.  By now we were quite convinced that our much planned Rajasthan odyssey would be pushed back by a few days. Then the unexpected happened.

Trains to and from North India were indeed by and large cancelled with one exception. The Delhi Jaipur Ahmedabad Section ( also known as North Western Railway) was still not an electrified line then ( perhaps even now). They still used Diesel locomotives. Hence our train was on schedule.  As we waited,  about 10 minutes past the scheduled time, we indeed saw the headlight of a train pulling into the station. The darkness made it hard to spot coaches. We got in somewhere and then found our way to our coach. Guess what, the train indeed left. ( Later we learnt that Diesel Locos were used to haul many trains all over the train that were stuck in various parts of North India!)

Next morning by the time we reached Jodhpur, the power gods had relented.


Author: harshT

Assistant Professor

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