The New Year’s Day assertion by Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi that his State would re-set its clocks to introduce a local time zone that would be at least 60 minutes ahead of Indian Standard Time, has rekindled an old debate. The idea is to optimise daylight hours in the region where the sun rises around 4 a.m. in summer and it gets dark before 4 p.m., while at the western tip of Gujarat, about 2,900 km away, the same phenomena occur some two hours later. Since IST corresponds to 82.5 East longitude where Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh is located, the region east of the line has fewer daylight hours than in the west. Mr. Gogoi is seeking to resurrect the daylight saving schedule of ‘chaibagaan’ that was introduced by the British rulers more than 150 years ago for tea plantations — which still follow that practice. He has pointed out that the shift would help save energy and increase productivity.
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. Transport and trade schedules could take a hit, for instance. Railway services could face the risk of accidents. Also, why is it only for Assam, and not for the rest of the northeast? And, even if the whole region makes the change, will it not intensify the sense of distance that northeastern India already has in relation to the rest of India? Given all these factors, it is not surprising that despite such demands having been made periodically, the Central government has appeared reluctant to proceed in this regard, presumably mindful of the administrative challenges. 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.
>>A sentence in the Editorial, “Time for a change” (Jan. 4, 2014) read: “The idea is to optimise daylight hours in the region where the sun rises around 4 a.m. in summer and it gets dark before 4 p.m., while at the eastern tip of Gujarat, about 2,900 km away, the same phenomena occur some two hours later.” It should have been the western tip of Gujarat.