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An idea whose time has come?

The clamour for the introduction of another time zone in the country is growing, writes Sanjib Kr. Baruah.

india Updated: Feb 27, 2010 23:46 IST
Sanjib Kr. Baruah

10AM, Tirap, Arunachal Pradesh: Juwang sluggishly steps into his mud hut. Having got up at 4 AM, he has already tended to the kitchen garden, fed the cattle and dropped his kids to school. He is already bushed.

10AM, Kandla, Gujarat: Up from bed at 8:30 AM, Rahul Shah is in office and in his elements. Nattily dressed up and whistling a cheerful tune, he is looking forward to the day’s work.

The clock never seems to strike 10 for Juwang. In another part of India, Shah is scurrying around in his pyjamas and hurrying through his motions so that he doesn’t get late for work.

If the sun rises at 6 AM at Tirap in Arunachal, it is only after about two hours that Kandla in Gujarat will get to see sunrise.

Stretching for nearly 3,000 km as the crow flies west to east, from the swampy Rann of Kutch in Gujarat to the thick forests of Arunachal Pradesh, India’s size presents a mammoth problem with respect to availability and usage of daylight.

With meal timings, office hours and school schedules staying uniform for the entire expanse of the nation,

activities in the east get delayed compared to the western parts. There is a two-hour difference spread out between its eastern and western borders.

Of late, there is a growing clamour in the country for the introduction of another time zone.

Says veteran journalist and commentator B.G. Verghese: “Another time zone for India is desirable. It saves energy and does nobody any harm. The government should do something about it. After all, one is not asking for a partition or division of the country.”

An earlier time zone for eastern India will mean that offices, schools, factories and business establishments start and end work early. This would result in better utilisation of daylight. Power

consumption will decrease, leading to substantial savings.

At present, India’s time is set in accordance with the 82.5 degrees East longitude that determines the Indian Standard Time (IST), set five-and-a-half-hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time.

The IST longitude divides India into two parts, the eastern part — comprising Bihar, West Bengal, Orissa, Jharkhand, Sikkim and the seven sisters of the Northeast — with the western part making the other component. Without doubt, states in the former region are economically more backward than the latter.

One of the most vocal among those demanding a new time zone is celebrated Assamese filmmaker Jahnu Barua. Says Barua: “Many countries have consciously set their time zones in such a way that the entire country remains on the west of their time meridian. Singapore is a good example. Its mean longitude is 105º E, but the country has set its standard time at longitude 120º E, keeping the entire nation permanently advanced by one hour.”

“In comparison, India has kept half the country (longitude wise) on the east of its standard time longitude. This leads to enormous wastage of daylight for people living in the east of the IST meridian. Moreover, India never observes Daylight Saving Time (DST),” says Barua.

DST is the practice of advancing clocks so that afternoons have more daylight. Clocks are adjusted forward an hour near the start of spring and adjusted backward in autumn.

Says Kumar Sanjay, associate professor of history at Delhi University’s Shraddhanand College: “In the existing, archaic system based on IST, the official watch time doesn’t coincide with the natural and biological clock time. Without doubt, the work efficiency gets hampered.”

Dr V.K. Jain of the Department of Environmental Sciences, Jawaharlal Nehru University, told Hindustan Times: “Another time zone is a good idea. There could be firm and tangible savings on the energy front.”

Adoption of multiple time zones appears to be working for other countries around the globe. Russia has 11 time zones. There are 10 time zones for the United States, nine for Australia and six for Canada. France and its dominions have 12 time zones while the United Kingdom and its overseas territories use eight time zones.

Says Verghese: “India is no stranger to the separate time zone concept. Before Independence, there was a Karachi time that was about half-an-hour behind IST. In Kolkata, there was a separate railway time that was ahead by about 24 minutes. The tea gardens in Assam also had a different working hour system.”

But India Meteorological Department additional director general A.K. Bhatnagar says the implications of another time zone need to be carefully examined. “The costs of implementation, changing of records, administrative problems and the resultant confusion for sectors such as railways and aviation should be taken into account.”

Notwithstanding the enormity of the problems involved in ushering in another time zone in the country, its advocates say it is an idea whose time has, perhaps, come.