India rally clashes with police over massive power cuts in heat

By Biswajeet Banerjee, AP

LUCKNOW, India — Rioters, some wearing just underwear, clashed with police in northern India early Friday in anger over massive power cuts that left wide swaths of the region without electricity as summer temperatures soared, police said.

Police fired tear gas to disperse the crowds who attacked police vehicles, blocked roads and rail lines, set an electricity transformer on fire and attacked electricity workers in Uttar Pradesh state, police spokesman Surendra Srivastava said.

Riots were reported in several cities across the state, he said.

Uttar Pradesh, home to some 180 million people, is one of India’s poorest states. Its inadequate energy infrastructure has been unable to cope with the high demand for electricity as temperatures peaked above 40 degrees Celsius (104 degrees Fahrenheit) in recent days.

Most cities have been getting just 12 hours of electricity a day. Many people were left without air conditioning or fans _ and, in some cases, without water, as electric pumps failed.

More than 250 people had been detained and charged with rioting, Srivastava said.

In Gorakhpur, which had been without electricity for more than 24 hours, protesters stormed an office of the electricity board, taking several workers hostage and beating a few. They also set a nearby electricity transformer ablaze in the town, 300 kilometers (190 miles) southeast of the state capital, Lucknow.

As police tried to disperse the crowd, many of the men _ clad just in their underwear to beat the heat _ taunted police, challenging them to open fire, Srivastava said.

State Power Minister Ram Veer Upadhaya said he expected the power crisis to continue for at least the next two years.

“There is a big gap between the demand and supply. Our power stations do not generate required electricity,” he said.

India faces chronic power shortages amid growing demand, spurred by its rapid economic growth, and a lag in building enough new power stations.