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Why India's power outage should ring alarm bells in the US

Washington: India's historic blackout has not only prompted inevitable calls from the United States for much needed reforms in India's energy sector, but also a great deal of introspection about America's own ageing infrastructure.

Persis Khambatta, an expert at the Centre For Strategic & International Studies (CSIS), a Washington think tank, considers the failure of supply and distribution of power to keep up with India's rapid economic growth as perhaps the most important reason for the power failure.

India's power outage is a wake-up call for US too.

"Some analysts see these outages as a sign of a much larger issue - that India does not have the capacity to keep up with its growth-and this is a source of concern as India's appeal as an investment destination has recently taken a hit," wrote the fellow with the Wadhwani Chair in US-India Policy Studies.

However, Khambatta thinks that other infrastructure issues like railways, ports, and cold-chain technology pose more of an impediment to foreign investment.

Charles Ebinger and Govinda Avasarala, two experts at Brookings Energy Security Initiative, another Washington think tank, agreed saying the crisis was a "stark reminder of the broad reforms needed for India to finally emerge as an economic superpower."

"Slow development of domestic resources, costly imported resources, burdensome regulations, and a lack of investment in distribution prevent India from meeting a growing demand for energy," they wrote analysing India's emerging power crisis.

Ebinger and Avasarala argued that changing subsidy policy and setting market rates for fuel and electricity would lead to more revenue, more investment, and ultimately more reliable energy and electricity sectors.

"Will politicians in New Delhi let the current crisis go to waste?" they asked noting "Until now, the appetite for reforms has been disappointing, and the Indian economy has reflected this slowdown."

It would be a mistake, however, to underestimate India, wrote Ebinger and Avasarala citing the 1991 reforms in response to the foreign exchange crisis and expressed the hope that "this summer's blackouts are the wake-up call the country needs."

As the Indian blackout came just a month after a freak summer storm left over 200 million people in Washington and ten states from Indiana to Delaware without power for a week, it prompted media introspection about America's own aging infrastructure.

"The United States doesn't yet face the critical shortage of power that has left more than 600 million people in India without electricity this week," wrote the Washington Post.

"But the US grid is ageing and stretched to capacity. More often the victim of decrepitude than the forces of nature, it is beginning to falter," it said citing experts who fear such blackouts may become more common as the voracious demand for power continues to grow in the US.

IANS