India's worst power grid failure in more than a decade and a deadly train fire on Monday highlighted the crumbling infrastructure holding back Asia's third-largest economy, according to experts.
The outage, blamed by the government on system overload, knocked out power across a vast swathe of northern India, leaving people sweltering without fans, creating massive traffic jams and halting trains.
The blackout came as 32 sleeping passengers died in India's southern Andhra Pradesh state when a fire tore through a train coach -- the latest such incident to strike India's accident-prone century-old rail network.
India achieved near double-digit growth over much of the last decade despite its often crumbling roads and investment-starved railways, ports and electricity networks.
But its development and record on lifting its hundreds of millions of poor out of penury could be even better if the government was able to make the investments called for by the business community, experts say.
There is added urgency too, after India's economy grew at its slowest quarterly rate in nine years, they add.
"Infrastructure has always been the soft spot of the Indian economy -- there has not been enough investment, which has lowered the potential growth rate," Dariusz Kowalczyk, senior economist at Credit Agricole, told AFP.
The government is aiming to double infrastructure spending to $1 trillion on infrastructure during its latest five-year economic plan to 2017.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in a bid last month to overcome accusations of government policy paralysis, laid out an ambitious plan to fast-track big ticket projects.
In the power sector, the government is aiming for $400 billion of private and public investment over the next five years, but its track record is abysmal.
India has undershot every electricity goal it has set for itself in its economic plans for the past six decades -- and in the last three plans has missed capacity addition targets by 50 percent, according to the government Planning Commission.
"The entire power situation at present is headed for disaster," said D.S. Rawat, secretary general of Indian business lobby Assocham.
In fact, India's track record on delivering infrastructure projects in various sectors from ports to highways on time and on budget shows more misses than hits with such problems as land acquisition and red tape holding up work.
Recently, a flagship rail link to New Delhi's new airport has been put out of service because of faults detected on the line.
"In the past, the actual performance versus targets has not been very encouraging," said analyst Nalin Bhatt at Indian brokerage Motilal Oswal in a note.
Also India's ability to attract private money to fund infrastructure development is in question with foreign investors alarmed by a string of corruption scandals, perceived hostile government tax policies and political opposition to opening up the economy.
"Improving infrastructure is very important to restore the allure of growth of the Indian growth story," said Credit Agricole's Kowalczyk.
As well as power shortages and deficiencies in transport infrastructure, civic services providing water, garbage removal and sewerage are also poor or non-existent, even in new fast-growing areas often hailed as the "new shining India".
In New Delhi's satellite city of Gurgaon, home to affluent professionals, gleaming malls and multinational companies, many residents buy water because taps have run dry. They also endure day-long power outages.
"It's become an urban nightmare -- everything is collapsing here," said housewife Samita Kumar, who lives in an upmarket two-storey home in Gurgaon, as she waited for the power to return 14 hours after Monday's mega-outage began.
"We have to get water tankers every other day and some days I go to the mall just to get cool when the electricity is gone," she told AFP.