Does India Need Separate Time Zones?
November 9th, 2017
The Indian Standard Time (IST) has been a topic of debate, especially in the north-eastern part of India. Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu has been a vocal advocate for separate time zones in the 3,000 km Indian subcontinent.
It has been argued that a different time zone would be beneficial for the north-eastern states by allowing them to make daylight savings, thus increasing work efficiency. As this part of India follows the Indian Standard Time (IST), it witnesses early sunrises and sunsets. By the time they start their day, almost half the day is over.
“We get up as early as 4 am. Several daylight hours are wasted as government offices open only at 10 am and close at 4 pm,” said CM Khandu, as reported by The Indian Express.
What is a Time Zone?
A time zone is a region of the globe that observes a uniform standard time for legal, commercial, and social purposes. Time zones tend to follow the boundaries of countries and their subdivisions because it is convenient for areas in close commercial or other communication to follow the same time.
The Earth is divided into 360 vertical lines known as longitudes and a shift in every longitude gives a time difference of four minutes. Every 15-degree shift (longitudinal shift) results in a time difference of one hour.
However, India is a vast country that extends over a huge expanse where one extreme sees early sunrises and sunsets, while the other extreme witnesses late sunrises and sunsets. But the entire country is bound under a single time zone – the Indian Standard Time – with almost a difference of two hours between India’s easternmost and westernmost points – Kibithu in Arunachal Pradesh and Gugariyana in Gujarat.
Separate time zones and daylight savings
The demand for separate time zones would actually imply daylight savings i.e. the people in north-east would be able to advance their clocks by almost 0.5-1 hours, thus allowing them to make fuller use of the daylight.
Arunachal Pradesh and the neighbouring areas get dark by 4:30 in the evening, thus affecting people’s efficiency of work, especially in government offices. It also adversely impacts the social lives of the citizens.
Thus, separate time zones would not just increase work efficiency, it would also boost up the local economy.
The pros and cons of separate time zones and daylight savings
If this move is taken up, it has a lot of positive consequences attached to it.
A separate time zone would definitely benefit the people of north-east by allowing them to start their day early and use it in a more productive manner than what they have been doing currently.
As Shashi Tharoor wrote in The Week, “It makes no sense by any practical yardstick for people in Assam or the Andamans to keep their watch to the time of people in Agra. This actually has negative consequences in such diverse areas as lifestyle habits and energy conservation. It has even been suggested that one of the reasons that our north-east doesn’t produce such good cricketers is that, for a day-long sport, they have so much less sunlit time for practice than their counterparts in western India.”
The former diplomat further suggested that the country could be broken down into three time zones, “A sensible national system could give India three time zones: UTC plus 5 for places like Lakshadweep, Mumbai and Punjab; UTC plus 5 and a half, as at present, from Delhi to Chennai; and UTC plus 6 from Kolkata to the Burmese border, including the Andamans.”
However, having a separate time zone also has its disadvantage. Farmers and cattle would be the worst-hit as they would take the longest time to adjust and change the setting of their body clocks.
Separate time zones would also cause a lack of coordination between different parts of the densely populated country and cause obstacles in running the railways.
A four-member committee was set up in 2001 under the Ministry of Science and Technology to examine the need for multiple time zones and daylight saving. The Minister for Science and Technology at the time, Kapil Sibal, suggested sticking to the IST, stating that “the prime meridian was chosen with reference to a central station, and that the expanse of the Indian State was not large.”
However, the North-eastern states continue to work mostly in accordance to a separate chai bagan (tea garden) time zone, which has been existing unofficially in those areas alongside the Calcutta and the Bombay time zone of India as was made during the British period.