Power outages in Indian state spark local riots, 18 arrested

Residents of India's largest state Uttar Pradesh angered by consistent power outages assaulted a senior official and attacked several power stations, 18 people were arrested.

Hours-long power outages which leave people without air conditioners or fans in northern India's 38-degree Celsius (100.4 Fahrenheit) heat are common across India and rarely spark riots.

But frustration from a week of sweltering summer temperatures with no cooling rains appeared to be the cause of the riots that broke out late Tuesday in several towns and cities in Uttar Pradesh.

In the state's capital, Lucknow, at least 18 people were arrested after trying to set a power substation on fire, said Surendra Srivastava, a police spokesman in the city.

In Balrampur, an impoverished district northeast of Lucknow, a power station was set ablaze by about 150 supporters of the ruling socialist Samajwadi party. The violence prompted utility workers to stage a strike Wednesday, and they only returned to work after police promised to take action against the protesters.

Another mob damaged a power station in Gorakhpur, 200 kilometers (125 miles) east of Lucknow, Srivastava said.

Angry crowds roughed up the state's minister for jails, Rakesh Verma, in Bara Banki, a town 30 kilometers (20 miles) northeast of Lucknow. The minister managed to escape and took shelter in a nearby police station, officials said.

Protests were also reported in the towns of Sitapur and Kanpur, although it was not clear if there were any injuries or property damage.

The violence prompted Uttar Pradesh's top elected official, Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav, to suspend 10 other officials Wednesday while he investigates the power problems.

Officials blamed the power cuts on high demand for electricity during hot summer days. An engineer at the Uttar Pradesh Power Corp., Shailendra Dubey, said the state had a shortfall of hundreds of megawatts each day.

The power outages are so frequent that many places in Uttar Pradesh get electricity for just 10 hours a day.

"The situation is bad and there is very little room for improvement soon," said Ashok Kumar, another executive at the power utility< the AP reports.

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