Should India have two time zones? National timekeeper adds new arguments

Over the years, various citizens and political leaders have debated whether India should have two separate time zones. The demand is based on the huge difference in daylight times between the country’s longitudinal extremes, and the costs associated with following the same time zone. Those arguing against the idea, on the other hand, cite impracticability — particularly the risk of railway accidents, given the need to reset times at every crossing from the one-time zone into another.

Now, a proposal for two time zones has come from India’s national timekeeper itself. Scientists at the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research’s National Physical Laboratory (CSIR-NPL), which maintains Indian Standard Time, have published a research article describing the necessity of two time zones, with the new one an hour ahead of the existing time zone.

Need for two time zones:

India extends from 68°7’E to 97°25’E, with the spread of 29° representing almost two hours from the geographic perspective.

Legislators, activists, industrialists and ordinary citizens from the Northeast have often complained about the effect of IST on their lives and pursued the issue of having a separate time zone with the Central government, without much success.

In the Northeast, the sun rises as early as four in the morning and in winter it sets by four in the evening. By the time government offices or educational institutions open, many daylight hours are already lost. In winter this problem gets even more accentuated and the ecological costs are a disaster with much more electricity has to be consumed.

The research paper proposes to call the two time zones IST-I (UTC + 5.30 h) and IST-II (UTC + 6.30 h). The proposed line of demarcation is at 89°52’E, the narrow border between Assam and West Bengal.

States west of the line would continue to follow IST (to be called IST-I). States east of the line — Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura, Andaman & Nicobar Islands —would follow IST-II.

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, our research shows that energy saving from creating two time zones is not particularly large.

While there is merit in the argument, the potentially adverse consequences of introducing a new time zone within the country are many. Not forgetting the fact that a country like Russia has as many as nine time zones across the contiguous territory, having to cope with the zones and to be forced to reset the watch each time you need to cross a domestic line could be complicated.

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 sense a distance from the mainland and a 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.

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