Modi’s call to ‘challenge the darkness’ set to cause blackouts

Indians bang utensils outside their home to cheer health workers in Hyderabad on March 22. (AP pic)

NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s call to Indians to switch off lights Sunday evening for nine minutes and instead use candles to “challenge the darkness” of the coronavirus outbreak will mean blackouts for some citizens as utility firms take steps to safeguard their equipment.

Modi asked people to switch off lights at 9pm.

That may result in a sudden drop of about 15 gigawatt of power demand across the nation, said S N Sahai, secretary in the nation’s power ministry.

In Uttar Pradesh, India’s most-populated state, the state-run utility plans to switch off power in phases to stop the surge in voltage from threatening the state’s power grid and equipment, U P Power Transmission Corp said in a letter sent to generators.

The country plans to switch off some of its hydropower generation capacity to deal with the sudden dip in demand, Sahai said.

While India has barely tested 66,000 for the disease in the world’s most populated nation after China, Modi has spoken to his citizens twice, each time asking them to do a new activity to show solidarity in the fight against the disease.

The prime minister asked Indians to clap, rings bells, bang utensils and blow conch shells on March 22, and this time, switch off lights and use candles.

“These symbolic calls for solidarity will be more meaningful and credible if they’re accompanied by substantive, stepped-up measures to combat the virus,” said Michael Kugelman, senior associate for South Asia at the Wilson Center in Washington.

“Otherwise, they’re easy to dismiss as empty gestures meant to distract from the government’s struggle to curb the spread of coronavirus.”

India is battling to secure foreign-made test kits while red tape is slowing the deployment of locally made ones.

The number of tests in India is far slower than the pace in the US and even further behind that of top testing countries like South Korea, sparking speculation that the official tally of infections is underestimating the true size of its outbreak.

On March 22, many Indians rushed outside and gathered in groups to clap and make noise, violating the need to maintain distance.

To avoid a repeat, Modi asked citizens not to step outside their homes on Sunday.

“We have been asked by the grid operator to be flexible,” said Bharat Rohra, chief executive officer at Jindal Power Ltd.

“Our grid handles such shocks on a daily basis when the solar generation goes out in the evening.

“The system can handle this too if it’s planned well.”

India has been under a lockdown since March 25 for three weeks.

The nation has more than 2,500 infections, while 62 people have died.

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