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Modi govt rejects idea of a separate timezone for Northeast India. Here’s why it was the right decision

Individual regions can follow their own routine for the benefits of separate time zone, without the associated chaos

On December 19, Minister of Science and Technology Dr Harsh Vardhan informed the Lok Sabha that a High-Level Committee has rejected the proposal to have two time zones in the country for strategic reasons. Currently, India has a single time zone, which is 5:30 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time. The Indian Standard Time is based on 82°5′ E longitude, but given that the country extends from 68°7′ east to 97°25′ east longitude, this means the eastern and western parts of the have to follow a time which is behind and ahead of the respective local solar times.

Due to this reason, there have been demands to formulate multiple time zones in the country. It has been argued that there will be huge power savings as a result of separate time zones, as the states in the east will start and end the workday early compared to the western part, thereby saving on the power needed for lighting. At present, while the sun rises at around 4:30 in summer, the workday starts almost 4-5 hours after that, which is a waste of valuable daylight.

But the government of India has been rejecting the idea for a long time. In 2001, a committee under the ministry had examined the issue and had ruled that since the expanse of the Indian State is not large like the USA, no need has been felt for different time zones. This time the government has cited strategic reasons for the decision to maintain the single time zone for the country.

Although there are compelling reasons for having separate time zones, the problems that may arise with that are also grave. The other countries that have multiple times zones in single land mass, the population density is much less compared to India. But in India, any border between separated time zones will run through densely populated areas, creating huge chaos.

Separate time zones will mean separate schedules for same trains, flights that criss-cross the country on a daily basis. Lakhs of people will need to reset their watches every time they enter a different time zone. Moreover, the administration in India is not known for its efficiency.

Although these problems can be addressed with better management and technology, actually a better solution already exists for all the problems cited in a single time zone. And that solution is, everyone is free to operate on their own time zones. Confused? Let me explain.

Although India has a single time zone, it does not mean that everyone has to follow the same routine. The regions in the east can start and end their work day one or two hours earlier, and get all the benefits of having a separate time zone, without the chaos associated with it. Individual organisations, companies, factories, educational institutions, public sector units, state governments can fix work hours based on their geographic location. For example, an office in Kolkata can have a workday of 8 to 4, there is no bar on doing so.

It is not very difficult to do so, and actually, this is already followed in many places. In Assam, the tea gardens follow a different time zone, known as Tea Garden Time or Bagan Time, which is one hour ahead of IST. Most tea gardens in the organised sector in Assam start their workday at around 7 AM. Even the administrative offices of public sector companies like Oil and Natural Gas Corporation Limited (ONGC) and Oil India Limited (OIL) in Assam start working at 7 AM.

Likewise, several colleges in Assam start their classes at 7 AM, or even before that. State governments and other organisations in both the public and private sector can start their workday accordingly. Multinational companies already operate across different time zones, so it should not be a problem to advance the worktimes of private sector offices in the eastern region. As long as total work hours do not exceed prescribed limits set by labour laws, there is no bar on the private sector to fix their own work timings. In fact, the factories that work multiple shifts already have different work hours across the country. The same can be extended to administrative offices too.

While talking about the benefit of separate time zone, it is said that there will be huge savings in money due to better utilisation of daylight. In the analysis of estimated savings, the entire power bill of an organisation is taken into account. But that is the wrong approach to estimate that, because the light is not the only purpose that uses electricity, it is not even the largest user.

In fact, with the advent of LED lights, the lighting takes a minuscule amount of power in a house. Most power is consumed in cooling, running computers and other equipment etc, and those uses will remain fixed no matter what the work timings are. Therefore, if one takes into account only the electricity needed for lighting, the estimated benefit will come down significantly.

Coming back to the Lok Sabha, the minister was answering a question by Jayadev Galla from TDP. In the question, he says that smaller countries like France has 12 time zones, and Britain has 9 time zones. That is misleading information presented by the member of Parliament at the lower house. France and Great Britain has only one time zones each. But as both the countries have several overseas territories across the globe, a legacy of colonies they had in past, those territories have separate time zones according to their geographic locations.

Those are separate land masses located at different continents, most of them being islands at oceans, hence they do not suffer from any problem that India might face with multiple time zones.

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Raju Das
Corporate Dropout, Freelance Translator

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