Insights into Editorial: One India, two time zones
The Gauhati High Court has dismissed a public interest litigation seeking a direction from the Central government to notify a separate time zone for the Northeast. The court cites a high-level committee study, constituted by the Ministry of Science and Technology, that recognised the difficulties faced by a single time zone in eastern India but concluded that Indian Standard Time (IST) should nonetheless be retained.
The time difference between the westernmost part of India and the easternmost point is approximately two hours, the effect of which is that the sun rises and sets much earlier than it does in the rest of the country. Most Indians are not particularly worried about Indian Standard Time (IST), except for those who live in the Northeast where the sun rises around 4 a.m. in summer, and gets dark well before 4 p.m. in winter.
Need for new time zone:
- 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 having to be consumed.
Problems of time zones:
- 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 the 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 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 industrialised 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.
Problems of DST:
There is also the practice in several countries, of “Daylight Saving Time” (DST), wherein the time in summer is advanced (or the clocks put 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.
If we were to introduce DST in India, the inconvenience of time adjustment during summer and winter months would involve the whole country, happening twice a year, with marginal benefits. The possibilities of rail accidents would still be high. Even in the U.S. and Canada, road accidents increase discernibly in the days immediately following the change.
Is there any alternative?
One proposal is to introduce neither time zones nor DST, but to advance IST by half an hour to being six hours ahead of GMT, once and permanently. Such a suggestion has been made before, but until now no one has computed the energy savings that would accrue as a result using a correct model and dependable data.
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.
How is energy saved?
Energy is saved by longer use of sunlight and consequently less use of energy for lighting. The demand for electricity goes up in the morning for water heating and increases again in the evening for five to six hours, mainly for lighting, declining as people turn off lights and go to bed. The advancement of IST by half an hour only is unlikely to alter their habits and a person waking at 7 a.m. and going to bed at 11 p.m. will continue to do so, but advanced 7 a.m. is unaltered 6.30 a.m. when the sun is already up in most parts of the country, and 11 p.m. is the same as unaltered 10.30 p.m. In other words, people all over India will go to bed and wake up half an hour before they presently do and thus their waking hours will be more aligned to the daily cycle of sunshine. One assumption of course is that office times and factory times remain unaltered. It needs to be understood that people switch on lights not by looking at the watch but by the descending darkness after sunset. If on a particular day it got dark at 6 p.m., in say Mumbai, it will still get dark at the same time but the watch would show 6.30, since it has been put forward by half an hour.
Assuming lights kept turned on for five hours from 6 to 11 (bedtime) now will be kept on from 6.30 to 11 (bedtime), that is for 4.5 hours, the half-hour saving on lighting leads to an energy saving of 2.3 billion units of energy per year for the country. This saving amounts to almost 18% of evening peaking energy use, and would partly reduce the deficit that we presently suffer. The savings from time zones and DST are significantly less — the saving due to time zones comes from the eastern zone only, and for DST from half the year. The half-hour advancement of IST provides benefits for the whole country for the whole year. Besides saving energy, a longer sunlit evening would reduce street crimes. Traffic accidents may also come down to some extent.
By advancing IST by half an hour we meet the legitimate demands of the Northeast halfway without any of the inconveniences of time zones or DST.
It is now time to initiate a process of consultation to consider all sides of the question afresh. What might be seriously examined is a proposal of some researchers, including those from the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bangalore, to set the IST forward by half an hour so that it is six hours ahead of Universal Coordinated Time. This will mean advancing the point of reckoning at 82.5 degree East to 90 degree East, which will fall at a longitude along the West Bengal-Assam border. That should go some way in meeting Assam’s demand, and help avoid potential grievances from northwestern India about corresponding inconveniences that an advancing by one full hour could entail for it in terms of late sunrise time.