A white tiger at the zoo comes out of its cage during the short burst of rain on Wednesday afternoon. (Amit Datta)
Shuddhendu Lahiri has always regarded the air-conditioner as an addiction fraught with long-term health risks. A fortnight ago, he reluctantly bought one so that his 78-year-old mother could have a peaceful night’s sleep.
“I can’t get over the fact that I had to spend Rs 35,000 to survive a Calcutta summer. Since it was installed, the AC has been running at least 12 hours a day. I am dreading my next electricity bill,” said Lahiri, a bank official residing in Maniktala.
Officials at CESC, which supplies power to 26 lakh homes in the city and Howrah, said as many as 40,000 new ACs had been installed in the past 30 days. That might be a conservative estimate given that Great Eastern Trading Company and Capital Electronics alone have sold around 27,000 ACs in the same period.
Approximate sales figures of the main multi-brand retailers in town suggest that more than 80,000 new air-conditioners have been installed since March.
“Around 60 per cent of our customers this season are people who hadn’t planned to buy an AC, but the weather has forced them to change their mind. We have been selling around 200 units a day for a month now from our six outlets. Sales haven’t been this good since summer 2006,” said Devjani Bardhan, a manager at Capital Electronics.
Jiten Chawla of Cams Corner LG Shoppe said there had been a growth of more than 40 per cent in terms of sale value and the number of units installed compared with the same period last year. While window ACs have contributed largely to this growth, there has also been a noticeable shift towards the new 5-Star and inverter-technology models.
“Customers have become very conscious and are willing to shell out more for the models that enable then to save energy,” Chawla said.
The increased dependence on ACs and the addition of new users, including reluctant converts like bank official Lahiri, are reflected in the city’s power consumption data. Tuesday not only saw the discomfort index soaring to a season high of 71 degrees Celsius, but also a new CESC record for peak-hour consumption.
“We supplied 1,904MW on Tuesday, breaking the previous record of 1,863MW on May 23. Air-conditioners installed since early March have added at least 160MW to the city’s peak-hour requirement. Not only are hundreds of new ACs being installed every day, they are also being kept on for much longer. That is why the demand has skyrocketed,” said a CESC honcho.
Retailers may be delighted at the surge in sales, but are struggling to arrange for installation of that many ACs. “Every customer wants his AC installed and running within hours of purchasing it,” said Proshanto Ghosh, sales manager at the BBD Bag outlet of Great Eastern Trading Company.
Many stores have apparently run out of stock and are not even accepting bookings. “I had gone to South City mall to buy an AC, but didn’t find a model of my choice. They aren’t taking orders either. I was told there’s already a long queue,” said Shankar Sengupta, a resident of Jadavpur.
Electronics retailers have also reported a shortage of table and stand fans because of the unprecedented demand for any gizmo that cools.
South City AC snag
The central air-conditioning system at South City mall malfunctioned on Wednesday afternoon, forcing people out of the building for around two hours.
“This has been happening for the last couple of days. Today, the AC stopped working for around two hours from 11am. On Sunday, it had stopped working for an hour and a half from around 6.30pm,” said an official of a gaming store at the mall.
Some restaurants had contemplated shutting shop for the day after prospective customers streamed out of the building, unable to bear the stuffy atmosphere.
“Although it was for a short while, the impact was quite big. We lost quite a few customers. People come here to enjoy our food but they also want comfort. If the AC does not work, they are bound to feel uncomfortable and leave,” said the manager of an outlet in the mall’s food court.
The footfall was back to almost normal once the fault was repaired. “A mall is the best place to hang out in such weather. But if the air-conditioning doesn’t work, it is quite the reverse,” said Sarasi Ghosh, 32, who was at the mall with her husband and four-year-old daughter.
Officials of South City mall said the culprit was a snag in the chiller. “The blower wasn’t working properly. This affected air-conditioning for almost an hour and a half today. We had the same problem yesterday evening, but no such thing happened on Sunday,” said Reshmi Roy, deputy general manager of South City mall.
Additional reporting by Shubhi Tandon and Chandreyee Chatterjee