Science & Technology

'Advance IST by 30 minutes to help the North East'

Two time zones will create a divide between the North East and the rest of India, they say

By Gajanan Khergamker
Published: Tuesday 26 March 2019
Illustration: Vijayendra Pratap Singh/CSE
Illustration: Vijayendra Pratap Singh/CSE Illustration: Vijayendra Pratap Singh/CSE

Two senior researchers have noted that there is no need to create two time zones in India, a long pending demand in the North East of the country. Instead, all that is needed to be done is to advance the Indian Standard Time (IST) by 30 minutes to reduce problems caused due to the sheer vastness of India.

Dilip Ahuja from the National Institute of Advanced Studies and DP Sen Gupta from the Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru, in agreement with most national security experts, while speaking at a talk conducted by Observer Research Foundation (ORF) in Mumbai, confess that having two different time zones could lead to confusion, possibility of accidents and a likelihood of “misuse as a political means to divide the country”.

They, instead, point to a four-decade-long research culminating from a study initially commissioned by the Bureau of Energy Efficiency and the Union Ministry of Power upon the request of Department of Economic Affairs and later supported by Union Ministry of Earth Sciences, Government of India. It led to the simple yet sound conclusion — a 30-minute advancement to the Indian Standard Time (IST).

A long standing demand

Since India spans about 2,933 kilometres between its western and eastern points, demands for two separate time zones have been made for decades now.

Political leaders from the North East have been demanding a separate time zone that would increase daylight savings and efficiency. An early sunrise means that by the time they start their day, almost half the day has passed. This also translates into an early sunset which requires extra use of lights in both homes, offices and in public places cramping productivity and escalating energy costs.

Arunachal Pradesh’s Chief Minister Pema Khandu had even remarked on the issue publicly, saying, “We get up as early as 4am… Several daylight hours are wasted as government offices open only at 10 am and close at 4 pm.”

Also, despite India’s Planning Commission recommending the division of the country into two time zones in 2006, no action was taken. In January 2014, the-then Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi had even proposed that Assam follow the Chai Bagaan time, or tea garden time that is one hour ahead of IST.

However, in view of security concerns, the Guwahati High Court even dismissed a Public Interest Litigation on March 6, 2017, seeking a directive to the Centre for a different time zone on the basis of a High Level Committee set up by the Union Ministry of Science & Technology.

The Committee had held the “eastern states in the country do face certain disadvantages by following standard time due to early sunrise/sunset in the region,” yet instead recommended advancing of working timings by one hour in the eastern states.

A simple enough solution

The four decade-old study concluded that all that India needed to do to boost productivity, save energy and bring the North East into the mainstream fold was advance the IST by 30 minutes. The suggestion fetched the best possible solution for the nation in comparison to several others that fell short by varying degrees.

It was found that merely advancing IST by 30 minutes would translate into a heft saving of energy of 2.7 billion units. And, that too by 2009 estimates, which works out to nearly 3.5 billion units as on today.

The researchers analysed India’s electricity load curve data across regions (Northern, Western, Eastern, North Eastern and Southern) to calculate the savings in electricity consumption due to reduced lighting needs.

The analysis revealed that electricity demand peaked in the evenings when people were back home from work. And, in order to meet this peak load demand, electricity supply companies struggled as a rule.                                                                              

Now, the researchers maintain, by simply advancing the IST by 30 minutes, the peak load demand in the evening will be reduced by 17-18 per cent. Changing the IST from Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) + 5:30 to GMT + 6:00 is set to save India about 3.5 billion units annually, which is about 0.3 per cent to 0.4 per cent of annual consumption.

“Although the percentage saving of energy units may seem negligible, it would result into voluminous savings in monetary terms and carbon emissions,” said Sen Gupta. “As more households are electrified and there is less load-shedding with improved electricity supply, advancing IST will only add to the energy saving in the long-term also,” added colleague Ahuja.

The scientists soundly counter a recent recommendation by the National Physical Laboratory for India to implement two time zones for India or daylight savings twice a year as is followed in Western countries.

“Bringing in two time zones will create a divide between the eastern parts of India and the rest of the country and lead to confusion in travel schedules who travel mostly by road and not air as in the West where all they need to do is set their clocks right. Our proposal to simply advance the clock will not force people to change their schedules or habits and is most viable,” said Ahuja.

Five Asian countries who have implemented a one-time advancement in their clocks are China, Kyrgyzstan, Malaysia, Singapore and South Korea.

The two retired professors, despite making several presentations to various government departments and bodies between 2010 and 2014 even getting letters of endorsement on their proposal, are waiting for things to move.

“Governments and policy-makers have simply shrugged their shoulders and moved on. We need individual states on board as stakeholders,” said Sen Gupta on the decade-old premise.

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