N-E is 2 hours ahead

N-E is 2 hours ahead


Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu has, time and again, reiterated the North-Eastern states’ decade-old demand for a separate time zone. The Indian Standard Time (IST) is measured at Shankargarh Fort in Allahabad, Uttar Pradesh, along the line of longitude 82.5° East, which is five and a half hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), and this standard time zone is followed across India, even though the East to West expanse of the country exceeds 2,900 km. The time difference between the western-most part and the eastern-most point of India is approximately two hours, the effect of which is that the sun rises and sets much earlier in the North-East than it does in the rest of the country.

Most Indians are least concerned about IST, except for those who live in the North-East, where the sun rises around 4 am in summer and gets dark well before 4 pm in winter. The leaders from N-E region argue that a separate time zone would increase daylight savings and efficiency. Legislators, activists, industrialists and ordinary citizens from the region have been garrulous about the effect of IST on their lives, and have vigorously pursued a separate time zone with the central government, without much success.

For much of the 19th century, each large city in India observed its own local time as was the practice elsewhere in the world. However, in 1884, two time zones were structured in India, the Bombay Time (4 hours and 51 minutes ahead of GMT) and Calcutta Time. Railways used Madras Time (where an observatory was built in 1792) because it was between Bombay and Calcutta times. On January 1, 1906, British India adopted Indian Standard Time (IST) as five and a half hours ahead of GMT. Since Independence, IST has been the official time for the whole country. Provisions in labour laws, such as the Plantations Labour Act, 1951, allow the central and state governments to define and set a local time for a particular area. In Assam, tea gardens follow a Tea Garden Time or Bagan-time that is one hour ahead of IST.

According to film-maker Jahnu Barua, by following IST, the N-E has gone behind by 25 years 10 months in productivity and incurred a total wastage of electricity at homes/offices worth Rs 94,900 crore since Independence. The recurring grievances of the people of N-E states led the central government to appoint in 2001 the VS Ramamurthy Committee to look into the possibility of reverting to two time zones, but the committee decided against the proposition. However, it favoured starting and ending office earlier in the eastern parts of the country so that people in that region can take advantage of early daylight. Another recommendation — to adopt daylight saving time in summer months — did not find favour.

According to scientists, dividing the country into two time zones will not lead to any substantial energy savings but there are several disadvantages, like in many places where trains run on a single track or on manual switching, the likelihood of train accidents will multiply. Though there is no such danger in countries like the US and Canada with six and seven time zones respectively since they have automated train systems. China, on the other hand, despite its east-west spread that could justify five time zones chooses to stick to one. Another problem associated with multiple time zones is that people have to set their watches every time they cross zones.

Recently, the Guwahati high court, while hearing a public interest litigation demanding separate time zone, dismissed the PIL citing executive prerogative over the matter. In the US, battles over daylight-saving time regularly went to courts till 1966. Todd Rakoff, in his work on the invisibility of time in structuring the law, argues that there is a normative dimension of time that seems to underwrite a number of legal arrangements. He terms this as ‘laws of time’ and includes within its ambit a range of regulatory norms from the standardisation of time to the length of the work-day and the creation of holidays and social time.

Recipe for chaos?

If India were to be divided into two time zones, there would be chaos at the border between the two zones. It would mean resetting clocks with each crossing of the time zone and unleash so many confusions, including numerous train accidents. Partitioning the already divided country further into time zones may also have undesirable political consequences. However, energy experts argue that for a country like India, with serious power and energy shortages, a saving of 2.3 billion units every year, especially in the evenings when energy demand peaks, is substantial. With a time difference of one hour in the mornings and in the evenings, there would be a nearly 25% less overlap between office timings in the two zones. This could be important for banks, offices, industries and multinational companies which need to be constantly interconnected. There is also the practice in several countries of “Daylight Saving Time” (DST), wherein the time in summer is advanced (or the clocks brought forward) by one hour and retracted during winter. This enables people to enjoy sunlight longer in summer and avoid the inconveniences of late sunrises and early sunsets during winter.

One alternative proposal is to introduce neither time zones nor DST, but to advance IST by half an hour by reckoning it to be six hours ahead of GMT, once and permanently. Such a suggestion has been made before, but until now no one has reliably computed the energy savings that would accrue from it. This proposal of advancing IST by half an hour avoids the problems apprehended in the other two proposals (of time zones and DST) but provides maximum energy saving during evening hours when the utilities fail to supply continuous power.

(The writer is a Supreme Court advocate)

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