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Huge power cuts hit half of India

India has been hit by three more huge power grid failures covering half the country, leaving more than 600 million people without electricity in one of the world's biggest blackouts.

Hundreds of trains stalled across the country and traffic lights went out, causing widespread traffic jams in New Delhi. Electric crematoria stopped operating, some with bodies half burnt.

The massive failure - a day after a similar, but smaller power failure - has raised serious concerns about India's outdated infrastructure and the government's inability to meet its huge appetite for energy as the country aspires to become a regional economic superpower.

Power Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde blamed the new collapse on states taking more than their allotted share of electricity. "Everyone overdraws from the grid. Just this morning I held a meeting with power officials from the states and I gave directions that states that overdraw should be punished. We have given instructions that their power supply could be cut," he said.

The new power failure affected people across more than a dozen states - more than the entire population of the European Union. The blackout was unusual in its reach, although its impact was softened by Indians' familiarity with frequent blackouts and the widespread of backup generators for major businesses.

The outages came just a day after India's northern power grid collapsed for several hours. Indian officials managed to restore power several hours later, but at 1.05pm local time the northern grid collapsed again. About the same time, the eastern grid failed and then the north-eastern grid followed. The grids serve more than half India's population.

Express and local electric trains were stopped at stations across the state of West Bengal on the eastern grid. Crowds of people thronged the stations, waiting for any transport to take them to their destinations.

Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee said it would take at least 10 to 12 hours to restore power and asked office workers to go home. "The situation is very grave. We are doing everything to restore power," West Bengal Power Minister Manish Gupta said.

New Delhi's Metro rail system, which serves about 1.8 million people a day, immediately shut down for the second day in a row. Police said they managed to evacuate Delhi's busy Rajiv Chowk station in under half an hour before closing it.

India's demand for electricity has soared along with its economy in recent years, but utilities have been unable to meet the growing needs. India's Central Electricity Authority reported power deficits of more than 8% in recent months.

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