A panel, formed to examine having a separate time zone for the northeastern States, recommended against it for “strategic reasons”, the government informed the Lok Sabha on December 20. In a written response to a question on demands from the northeastern States for having a separate time zone, Union Science and Technology Minister Harsh Vardhan said such requests have been made on the ground that sunrise and sunset timings in these parts are much earlier than official working hours.
The debate for a separate time zone for the northeast has been in existence for as long as the history of modern India goes. Amidst the pros and cons of having two time zones for the country, no implementable solution has been proposed so far.
Back in October this year, the CSIR-National Physical Laboratory (CSIR-NPL) and the National Measurement Institute (NMI) of India explored the possibility and also proposed an implementable solution.
Proposed time zones: IST-I and IST-II:
The custodian of Indian Standard Time (IST) proposed two time zones IST-I and IST-II for the country as follows:
IST-I would be same as current IST, that is, UTC +5:30.
IST-II would be UTC +6:30 owing to the difference of one hour between the eastern and western part of the country.
The borderline between two time zones would have been 89°52’E, the narrow border between Assam and West Bengal. States west of this line would have followed IST-I (UTC +5:30) while states east of this line (Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Andaman & Nicobar Islands) would have followed IST-II (UTC +6:30).
Earth is divided into 360 vertical lines or the longitudes. A shift in every longitude gives a time difference of four minutes; so, the planet is divided into 24 time zones.
Longitude is the angular distance between a point on any Meridian and the prime meridian in Greenwich. The time at Greenwich is called as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT).
Need for two time zones:
India extends from 68°7’E to 97°25’E, with the spread of 29 degrees, which amounts to almost two-hours from the geographical perspective. For decades, legislators, activists, industrialists and ordinary citizens from India’s northeast have complained about the effect of IST on their lives.
Following are the factors which compelled the people from northeast to demand a different time zone:
Loss of daylight hours and excess electricity usage. A different time zone would allow sunsets to take place later, allowing the citizens to better use their daylight hours.
Effect on biological clocks of citizens. The longitudinal extremes of the country are assigned a single time zone which not only creates the loss of daylight hours but also creates problems relating to the biological clock.
India has a huge population; if the country were 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. There is scope for more dangerous kinds of confusion. Railway signals are not fully automated and many routes have single tracks. Trains may meet with major accidents owing to human errors. Just one such accident would wipe out any benefits resulting from different time zones in the country.
Partitioning the already divided country further into time zones may also have undesirable political consequences. Moreover, research shows that the energy saving from creating two time zones is not particularly large.
With a time difference of one hour in the mornings and in the evenings, there would be 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. This will be further detrimental to productivity and to the interests of the eastern region.
There is already a sense of alienation between the relatively prosperous and industrialized western zone and the less developed eastern zone. The people in the Northeast since a distance from the mainland and separateness in clock time may accentuate it.
Having a separate time zone for the eastern region will provide no energy or other benefits to the rest of the country. Moreover, India will continue to be in off-set time zones, five and a half hours in the west and six and a half in the eastern region ahead of.