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New Delhi: Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana drew more than their allotted share of electricity that led to India’s worst power outage, a panel investigating the matter said. The situation was worsened by low consumption in western India, technical mistakes and maintenance shutdowns.

On 31 July, the northern grid collapsed, and on 1 August, in a wider blackout, the northern and eastern ones also went down, leaving nearly 620 million people without electricity.

A committee headed by A.S. Bakshi, chairman of the Central Electricity Authority (CEA), said instability in the northern grid, combined with other issues such as 20 transmission lines being under a planned shutdown during the monsoon season led to the blackout.

The committee’s report on the recent blackouts was submitted to the power ministry recently.

Rising demand for power in most states, driven partly by a poor monsoon, further destabilized India’s overloaded electricity transmission grid. States that received inadequate rain, including Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana, drew more than their due from the national electricity network as farmers switched on irrigation pumps to enable sowing of the summer crop. Nearly 60% of arable land in India is rain-fed, and most of it depends on the June-September south-west monsoon.

“The cause of the failure can’t be exactly pinpointed. It was caused due to multiple issues. Many of the transmission links in the northern region were out due to maintenance work and annual planned shutdown as it happens during the monsoon season," said a power ministry official aware of the report’s finding, requesting anonymity.

The three northern states drew more power and western states drew less at a time when one of the two paths of the Agra-Bina-Gwalior transmission link was down as scheduled, leading to the collapse of the critical link, the report said. The findings, which are to be presented in the Lok Sabha in response to a calling-attention motion, also said the under frequency relays (UFRs) didn’t work as “their settings were not done at proper values". UFRs disconnect power supply if the frequency falls below a set range.

“The fault is with the states as the UFRs are with the electricity distribution companies. It is the responsibility of the regional load despatch centres (RLDCs) to verify the settings at frequent intervals. On the second day, all of the above happened with no commiserate load reduction," the ministry official said. “Technically, there is no other reason for the grid collapse. Ultimately it all boils down to grid discipline, which was not followed by Uttar Pradesh, Punjab and Haryana."

RLDCs fall under the purview of state-owned Power Grid Corp. of India Ltd (PGCIL) and are responsible for maintaining grid discipline and supervising optimum scheduling and delivery of electricity in their regions. The country has 33 state load despatch centres, five RLDCs, and a national load despatch centre.

A grid collapse is the worst that can happen at any transmission utility; if it happens, states that draw power from that particular network go without power. India has five regional grids—northern, southern, eastern, north-eastern and western. All except the southern one are connected.

The report has suggested new planning criteria and fresh transmission capacity besides recommending that UFR settings be checked more frequently. It has also asked for special protection schemes and defence mechanisms such as islanding. This would isolate the fallout of a grid disturbance on the national power grid, restricting it to a particular region, or allow a particular region or essential service to isolate itself if there is a grid failure.

The committee comprised Balwinder Singh, former special director, Central Bureau of Investigation; S.C. Srivastava of the Indian Institute of Technology, Kanpur; A. Velayutham, member, Maharashtra Electricity Regulatory Commission; PGCIL chairman and managing director R.N. Nayak; Posoco chief executive officer S.K. Soonee; and K.K. Agrawal, member, CEA. It also recommended scrapping the unscheduled interchange (UI) mechanism.

Posoco handles PGCIL’s power management functions.

While there is a penalty for drawing more than allotted the share of power from the transmission grid, which are known as UI charges, states prefer to pay this because it’s cheaper to do so than to buy power in the spot market.

“This mechanism is prompting the people to misuse it. CEA will be devising a new methodology to change the mechanism. There is a need for more penalty and the idea is to change the philosophy," said the official quoted above.

Another power ministry official said the new mechanism is in the planning process. He too declined to be named.

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