India stretches from 68°7′ East in Gujarat to 97°25’ East in Arunachal Pradesh and measures about 3000 km from its east end to its west end. The time difference between these extreme points is approximately 2 hours leading to differences in time of sunrise and sunset.
By following the IST, a common man in North east India has to wait for two extra hours to send a letter from the local post office as these government offices are accessible only after 10 AM. By the time government offices or educational institutions open, many daylight hours are already lost in this region thus giving West India the upper edge.
The same logic can be applied in case of sunset. As the twilight hits NE earlier compared to the western side, it leads to lesser duration of working hours during daytime and more consumption of energy due to the plentiful use of artificial lights. This problem gets even more noticeable during winters as the sun sets approximately around 4 PM in many parts of NE.
The ventilation of the idea of a separate time zone for NE India started around 2 decades back, when the government established a small committee in 2001 under the Ministry of Science and Technology to examine the strengths and weaknesses of multiple time zones in India. Kapil Sibal, who was the then head of the ministry, disregarded this issue and asked to stick with the IST. Most recently, Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh, Pema Khandu, has also advocated the idea of a separate time zone for NE.
In 2006, the Planning Commission (now NITI Ayog) recommended the introduction of another time zone for more efficiency. Former Chief Minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi, argued about the unproductivity and inefficiency of Assam due to less daylight in the region and dynamically demanded for the enactment of the bagaan time zone into its state official time. But all these efforts went in vain owing to indifference of the Union government.
However, scientists and researchers from the National Institute of Advanced Studies have m insisted on advancing IST by half an hour. They justified their stand with data-centric Research Paper published in 2012 which reported an increase to 17-18% saving of daily energy consumption that is saving India more than 2.17 billion kWh of electricity every year. A petition was signed on change.org regarding the same but it only ended as a futile attempt.
The British Raj adopted 3 different time zones; a Bombay time zone, a Calcutta time zone and a tea garden time or the baagaan time which was followed by the tea plantation workers in India. This chai baagaan time was one hour ahead of the IST which helped the workers do their work according to the sunlight. Present day workers still follow this routine for better productivity and efficiency.
If the USA having an end to end area of approximately 4300 km can have 4 different time zones, why cannot India have at least 3 different time zones?
The Guwahati High Court recently dismissed a petition which sought a direction from the central government to approve a separate time zone for North East. The High Court said that two time zones can cause unimaginable chaos, considering the country’s demographic size. India is a country where trains change tracks by manual switching. Different time zones could cause major confusion in communications between train operators and lead to accidents. However, these limitations are not sempiternal and can easily be taken care of.
But why won’t India introduce a new time zone? Apart from the above official challenges, there are powerful psychological reasons behind this reluctance. In official phraseology, NE is still regarded as a troubled region. Every state in the region has suffered from violent insurgency and brutal counterinsurgency since independence. Some insurgent groups, seeking full secession from India, are still active. Beijing, which already claims Arunachal Pradesh as its own, is repeatedly prodded by ultra-nationalists in China to annexe the entire region.
In such circumstances, the grant of a different time zone for the area, as the academic Lawrence Liang has observed, is viewed by New Delhi as the first temporal step towards conceding spatial autonomy. Indian nationalists naturally saw the place differently. Their decision to enforce IST made sense in the immediate aftermath of partition and independence when India’s future as a united entity was uncertain. Today however, to deny 45 million Indians in the North East more daylight saving time is to place the insecurities of India’s founders above the urgent needs of India’s citizens.
As anyone vaguely familiar with the North East knows, the principal cause of unrest in the region is its economic backwardness. A new time zone will go a long way towards addressing this problem. It will save daylight, boost productivity and conserve electricity. A prosperous north-east is less likely to yield to the temptations of separatism. People can engage in other activities with the extra daylight which can have a positive impact on their health and psychology in the long run. Regular activities like cycling and walking would provide a better platform for improved health. Also, morning sunshine affects circadian rhythms indirectly aiding the sleep patterns. As India is largely an agricultural nation, more daylight can lead to better productivity. Even children will get more time to engage in outdoor co-curricular activities.
The time distance between the North East and the mainland of the country is also responsible for the difference in development index between the north east and the rest of the country. All the highly developed cities like Mumbai, Delhi, Bangaluru, Ahmedabad etc are located west of the IST thus enjoying more daylight. This might be one of the reasons for lesser industrial developments in NE region otherwise known for its rich and vast natural resource base. With the diminishing problem of connectivity and insurgency, lesser daylight hours is one of the reasons for MNCs and industries to avoid setting of offices in NE. The basic deterrent of the industrialist to invest in this region is the lack of power supply and huge expenses to run factory after sunset. This basic demand can be fulfilled by diverting the already saved energy for the industrial needs. So with the creation of different time zones, we not only welcome the idea of saving precious time but also help us address the problem of underdevelopment and health security in NE.
The advantages are many; from the increase in productivity to the increase in efficiency and decrease in energy consumption. But it can somewhat provide NE recognition in mainland India and also around the national media. As we all know this region was neglected ever since independence in various fields. This small yet meaningful approach can provide recognition and the autonomy that the people of NE craved for since independence. Further linked with the increase in infrastructural projects in this region and NE being the pioneer in India’s Act East Policy, the formulation of another time zone in this region can prove to be pivotal in binding the people of NE together with the rest of the nation and hence enhancing the unity of our nation. Apart from the socio-economic benefits, this time zone can also prove to be politically beneficial.
As Darwin once said, “a man who dares to waste one hour of time has not discovered the value of time”, we will similarly fail to understand the value and the importance of having more than one time zone if we do not take a chance by investing in it.
By ANURAN MEDHI, KIRORI MAL COLLEGE, DU
LAYAN KAUSHIK, IIT ROORKEE