On May 27th, Zaveri Bazaar in South Mumbai experienced a power cut that lasted almost 38 hours, causing chaos in the market on a hot summer day. Lights went out at 7 pm and returned on May 29th early morning at 4 am. The Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) attributed this power cut to a faulty underground line.
India generates a total of 2.75 lakh megawatts of electricity every day, and the current per capita electricity requirement in Mumbai is about 1000 kilowatt. Growing power needs become worrisome when we’re facing a climate crisis head on, from the extreme heat to erratic rain patterns.
The 38-hour-long struggle
When the lights went out, we had to tend to customers who were already in the shop using candle light. We closed the shutter as soon as those customers left, as power outages meant our security alarm and CCTV cameras all went defunct. All jewellery shops in the area also had to be closed down. Huge losses were incurred due to untimely maintenance work by Brihanmumbai Electric Supply and Transport (BEST).
The two-day-long power outage also proved to be extremely uncomfortable for the workers who lived in the shops where they worked.
Our workers and us had to work in the extreme humidity during the day as there was no fan or AC. Some of my workers also sleep in the shop, so it was a different kind of hell for them to sleep without windows, fan or AC for almost two days.
The water system we have in the showroom runs on electricity, so for 36 hours we didn’t have any running water in the shop, and had to buy water for the staff so they could cook their food.
Power cuts, a frequent occurrence
For many years now, Mumbai has been fortunate enough to get 24/7 power supply while other cities struggle to maintain load shedding schedules. Why then do such human errors occur, that can cut off electric supply in an important economic hub in the city for so long – affecting businesses, and moreover, also compromising security?
Over the years, the cost of producing power has drastically gone up which can be reflected in our electricity bill. Despite well established networks for power supply, there are still some inefficiencies in providing constant power supply to some parts of the city.
For many years now, we have been experiencing power cuts that last two-four hours on average, this can be due to different reasons – underground pipe-laying work, tripped power lines and a host of other issues, according to BEST, that supplies electricity in our area. Other parts of the city also see power cuts, but less frequently and for lesser durations.
The grievance resolution time in Zaveri Bazaar by BEST is much longer than normal. It takes one-two hours minimum to fix an issue. This 40 hour power outage was the last straw and me and other members of the Zaveri Bazaar Jeweller Association decided to raise our voices.
Why power cuts are a cause of concern for Zaveri Bazaar
Zaveri Bazaar, Bhendi Bazaar and other wholesale markets in the vicinity have existed since the era before British colonialism. These economies are over 200 years old. An established wholesale market in the island city such as this is a hub for imports and exports, contributing to a major chunk to Mumbai’s economy.
Zaveri bazaar has over 3000 ground floor shops and showrooms, most of these are jewellery stores for gold and diamond and there are some other fabric stores, steel factories too. The market employs about 4-5 lakh people in these shops and factories.
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Power outages are a security issue, especially for jewellery stores. When electricity is cut off we have to shut down business completely, as we cannot afford to compromise the safety of our shops that have a lot of valuables. My shop Umedmal Tilokchand Jewellery had to be closed after sunset for two days straight, which meant no business for two days.
Having no electricity may lead to robberies and thefts, and because we do business in big volumes, we cannot afford to risk it. We kept the store open during the day, but had to turn the shutter down at 7pm. No robberies have happened yet, but these outages make us more vulnerable.
Zaveri Bazaar makes over 200 crore in profit every day, which means each store’s average profit is six-seven lakh. On days of these power cuts when shutters have to be pulled down we incur huge losses.
BEST’s response to power cuts in Zaveri Bazaar
Every time there is an outage, we contact the nearby BEST office in Pathakwadi, and their responses are usually vague, saying that they are waiting for repairmen to arrive from Mazgaon, waiting for a bus to arrive with needed tools etc.
Everytime there is a new explanation for an outage – underground fault, powerline tripped, fire at the transformer etc.
Of course, over time we have realised that there are systemic issues causing so many more outages in this part of the city, but there is no transparency about this, and we are kept in the dark, quite literally.
This time members of our association took this news to the media after 12 hours of the outage, and we were written about extensively by all daily english and regional newspapers. This put pressure on the BEST department to expedite the rectification of the issue.
As far as we know, the underground fault has still not been fixed and we are now getting power from electricity boards in the area. But this should not have taken 38 hours to fix. We had to seek external help from the media to ask the authorities for accountability.
We haven’t seen any accountability, but our power is back on, as of now. Only until the next power cut, hopefully not as long as this one.