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Power cuts spark protests as India swelters

Employees from the electricity board work on overhead cables on the outskirts of New Delhi. (INDIA-DLF/ REUTERS/Parivartan Sharma)

NEW DELHI: Power cuts lasting up to eight hours a day have sparked protests in industrial towns on the outskirts of the Indian capital, with residents blocking traffic, burning tires and throwing stones.

New Delhi has been sweltering in the hottest summer in years - with temperatures regularly hitting the forties Celsius - as it waits for the delayed monsoon rains to arrive.

As a result, power companies have been unable to cope with the soaring demand for electricity to power fans and air conditioners, leaving residents to sweat it out in darkness.

Weeks of power and water shortages have sparked widespread anger and underscored the infrastructure shortages that affect even the wealthier parts of Asia's third-largest economy and hurt its growth.

Gurgaon, a business and industry hub next to New Delhi and home to corporate giants such as Microsoft Corp and Google Inc., has been hit especially hard this hot season.

Technical glitches have disrupted the functioning of two power plants that supply the majority of its electricity.

Frustration boiled over on Monday night and Tuesday, as residents took to the streets and blocked a main road that connects Delhi to Gurgaon, and set tires on fire.

"We have repeatedly complained to the civil authorities but have received no response from them," Makesh Pehelwan, a protester, was quoted by the Mail Today newspaper as saying. "With temperatures soaring, how can we live in the sweltering heat with no power and water?"

K.K. Sindhu, Gurgaon's police commissioner, played down the disturbances, saying the situation had been manageable.

"Things are peaceful now," he told Reuters.

The unrest also hit other towns around Delhi, including the industrial hubs Noida and Ghaziabad.

Delhi's summer is the hottest in 33 years, according to the Times of India newspaper. In recent weeks there have been reports of scuffles breaking out as residents surrounded trucks delivering water around the city.

Much of the north of the country is still waiting for the monsoon at it makes its way from the south coast and waters the fields of hundreds of millions of farmers who depend on it.

The rains were 31 percent below their average fall up to the beginning of July, raising fears of a drought ahead of the planting month.

 

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