Does India Need Two Or More Time Zones?

“Early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” We may have all heard this piece of good advice, and some of us may follow it, but how do we know what’s the right time in our time zone?

 Indian Standard Time is measured at Shankargarh Fort in Allahabad, (Uttar Pradesh) along the line of longitude 82.5° East. IST is 5 1/2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). This standard time zone is followed across India, even though the East to West expanse of India exceeds 2,900 km. Thus, when it is daylight in North-Eastern India it is not yet dawn in Western India, while when the sun sets in Western India it is night time in North-Eastern India. Therefore, there have been proposals by various people in the past that India needs more than one time zone.

 The issue came up again last week, when the Chief Minister of Assam, Mr Tarun Gogoi said he would like to move all clocks in Assam forward by 60 minutes, so that Assam has a local time zone that’s one hour ahead of Indian Standard Time (IST). Since the sun rises earlier in North-Eastern India, workers in some sectors who make an early start, such as tea gardens and the petroleum industry, already follow an alternative system of time. For instance tea gardens follow ‘Bagan Time’ or ‘Tea Garden Time’, which is an hour ahead of IST.

 Some experts and activists have been campaigning for a separate time zone for North-East India for many years now, citing reasons of improved efficiency and productivity if the North-Eastern states can make better use of their daylight hours, which start sooner and end earlier than in other parts of the country. They argue that by shifting the clocks forward people in these states can make optimum use of their natural daylight hours, and also make best use of energy resources.

 The award-winning Assamese film maker Jahnu Barua, who has campaigned for a separate time zone for the North East for a long time, says that the central government by implementing a time zone that’s an hour ahead of IST, would bring about increased productivity, cut down on waste of electricity, and make better use of both capital and human resources in the North East. He cites the case of countries such as Russia, Canada and the USA, that have multiple time zones to optimize the use of daylight and minimize energy consumption.

 However another viewpoint offers a different solution. Dr D.P. Sen Gupta (formerly a professor at the Indian Institute of Science and presently a visiting professor of the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bangalore) states in a forthcoming paper in Current Science, the popular science journal published fortnightly by the Indian Academy of Science, that India ‘would save 2.7 billion units of electricity every year by shifting the IST meridian eastward (from 82.5E longitude in Uttar Pradesh to 90E near the Assam-Bengal border)’.

 Dr Sen Gupta and his colleagues have calculated that the state-wise energy savings for certain key states would be:

State total energy consumption

Karnataka 0.49 %

Tamil Nadu 0.21 %

Andhra Pradesh 0.28 %

West Bengal 0.64 %

Madhya Pradesh 0.68 %

 According to Dr Sen Gupta ‘This would amount to a critical saving in energy for a country where 350 million people out of the total 1,200 million population still have no access to electricity and use kerosene lamps at night.’ The energy savings would come about due to the greater use of natural daylight and therefore reduced consumption of electricity in residences and factories.

 Dr Sen Gupta and his colleagues are also of the view that having two time zones would cause ‘unimaginable chaos’ in India, where many time-bound operations, such as railway lines, operate on the basis of manual controls. Dr Sen Gupta also said that ‘By making a one-time change to time, not only are people saved the trouble of changing clocks every time they cross a zonal boundary, it would also prevent chaos that could arise … for instance, in manually operated railway lines.’

 India originally had two time zones, while under British rule. These were Bombay Time and Calcutta Time. However after Indian gained independence a standard time zone was introduced in order to facilitate coordination across the country.

 In 2001, the Indian government’s Ministry of Science and Technology set-up a committee to study the need for more than one time zone in India. Kapil Sibal, the Minister for Science and Technology, presented the report of the committee to the Parliament in 2004. The committee did not recommend any change from the single time zone, as Mr Sibal explained, ‘the prime meridian was chosen with reference to a central station, and that the expanse of the Indian State was not large’.

 While there seem to be arguments both for and against the use of more than one time zone, the alternative proposal of shifting the IST meridian eastward is an interesting one, which is likely to lead to more debate on the topic. As employees in India keep their eyes on their watches and office clocks as they sign-in in the morning and clock-out at the end of the day, this interesting proposal might offer them other options to manage their time every day.