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Talks to resolve power crisis fail in south India

October 9, 2013

HYDERABAD, India (AP) — Millions of people in southeastern India were facing widespread power blackouts for the sixth consecutive day Wednesday after talks between the government and striking electricity workers failed.

Workers have shut down power plants across Andhra Pradesh state to protest a decision to divide the state into two, creating the new state of Telangana. They are among thousands of people in Andhra Pradesh who have gone on strike over the new state, saying it will divide Telugu-speaking people, lead to cuts in the state budget and create problems with water resources.

Chief Minister N. Kiran Reddy, Andhra Pradesh’s top elected official, held two rounds of talks with the leaders of the utility employees’ association, but the workers remained adamant that they would not call off their strike. Another round of talks to resolve the crisis was scheduled for later Wednesday.

The workers are demanding that the federal government withdraw last week’s Cabinet decision to carve out the state of Telangana with 10 districts out of Andhra Pradesh’s 23 districts.

Separately, more than 600,000 state government employees opposed to the division and demanding a “united Andhra Pradesh” have been agitating for nearly two months.

Last week’s decision to go ahead with the creation of Telangana as India’s 29th state, has led to further turmoil with workers shutting down several state-run and private power plants in the state.

Most parts of the state went without power for long hours Wednesday. Scores of freight and passenger trains were canceled. Hospitals and drinking water utilities in the state were operating with generators. Mobile phone services, gas stations and other businesses were affected by the prolonged power cuts.

Power supply to the adjoining states of Tamil Nadu and Kerala was also hit, raising fears that the southern electricity grid could collapse due to shortages in Andhra Pradesh.

The demand for a separate state of Telangana has erupted sporadically since the 1950s, with hunger strikes and violent protests claiming about 1,000 lives over the past decade. Several protesters self-immolated to press for the creation of the state.

Telangana supporters say their drought-prone northern area is underdeveloped and its residents feel discriminated against in the allocation of state funds, water and jobs. Achieving statehood will allow the future state, with 35 million people, to get the resources it needs to develop, they say.

Those opposed to the idea of a new Telangana state say Andhra Pradesh would lose the city of Hyderabad, India’s sixth largest city and a major IT hub. Although the two states will share Hyderabad as their capital for the next 10 years, the city is located geographically in the future new state.

Meanwhile, the town of Vijayanagaram remained under curfew for the third day Wednesday after opponents of the new state set homes and businesses on fire. Paramilitary troops patrolled the town when the curfew was lifted for two hours to let people stock up on food and medicines.

Update hourly