It is just as well that the debate about whether India should have two different standard times or not has popped up once again. The latest suggestion comes from a team of scientists in Bangalore that wants the government to seriously consider advancing the Indian Standard Time (IST) by half an hour so that it is six hours ahead of the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) or the Universal Coordinated Time. This, they say, will save an estimated 16 per cent peak evening electricity. Writing in the journal, Current Science, Dilip Ahuja and D.P. Sen Gupta of the National Institute of Advanced Studies at the Indian Institute of Science propose advancing IST from being the time at the 82.5 degree East longitude (Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh) to 90 degree East (Bengal-Assam border). This is not the first time such plans have been mooted. During the late 1980s, researchers from one of India’s leading energy institutes suggested a similar system of time zones to save electricity.
The basic idea behind these proposals is obviously sound: to make the best use of daylight in eastern India, where the sun rises and sets more than an hour earlier than in the west. Arunachal Pradesh, for instance, gets to see the sun when it is still dark in Ahmedabad. People in the east stay up longer, keeping lights on, and use up more electricity than in the rest of the country. Not surprisingly, even cricket matches played in Guwahati have to be started half an hour early so that they can be finished before the shadows creep in. Critics argue weakly against dual time zones, quoting everything from increased risks of train accidents across the time zonal boundaries to possible spurt in terrorist violence. Fears that the energy savings won’t justify these risks are also unfounded, given that current power shortages cost India up to 1.5 per cent of its GDP every year. Considering that every degree of longitude spells four minutes, India’s geographical span of 68 degrees to 97 degrees East of Greenwich works out to nearly two hours — large enough to have two time zones.
In any case, for well over half a century, the subcontinent did have separate time zones for its largest Presidencies, Bombay and Calcutta — temporal divisions that were unified only after Independence. So perhaps the bigger question is whether there is enough political will in the country to reset our clocks? The time for that starts now.