Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government is seriously considering introducing two time zones in India junking the Bharatiya Janata Party’s (BJP) old theories that separate time zones would stoke separatism and lead to the disintegration of the country.
Observers were surprised by Parliamentary Affairs Minister Ananth Kumar’s response to opposition lawmaker Bhartuhari Mahtab’s recent assertion in the Lok Sabha that India would save 2.7 billion units of electricity by taking advantage of daylight hours if a separate time zone is created for the far-flung north-eastern region bordering China, Myanmar, Bhutan and Bangladesh.
Mahtab, who represents the regional Biju Janata Dal (BJD), pointed out that the sun rises in the seven north-eastern states at 4 am but offices there open at 10 am like the rest of India where the sun rises two hours later.
The sun sets in the northeast at 4 pm and at 6 pm in Mumbai. Offices in the northeast remain open until 6 pm – two hours after sunset necessitating the use of electricity. A separate time zone for northeast would therefore save energy and contribute to overall economic growth.
Kumar complimented Mahtab for raising an “important and sensitive” matter and assured him that the government will act on his suggestion.
India’s single time zone, Indian Standard Time or IST, is 5.5 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). In 2007, during Congress Party rule, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Energy recommended a separate time zone for the northeast.
At that time, many BJP leaders, including former deputy prime minister LK Advani, argued vociferously that if the northeast gets a separate time zone, the restive region will acquire a new identity which will culminate in secession.
A separate time zone, the BJP argued, would add fuel to separatist fires in the sensitive, far-flung region with international borders. BJP’s opposition forced the government to shelve the plan.
But now, going by Kumar’s response, wisdom seems to have dawned on Hindu nationalist party. India’s single time zone stretches 3,000km. Compare it with the US which has six zones in 5200 km. Canada too has six time zones and Russia has 11. IST is 5.5 hours ahead of GMT.
Bangladesh, which is to the east of most of India and to the west of the northeast of India, is six hours ahead of GMT. It doesn’t take much intelligence or mathematical skills to calculate that since Bangladesh is six hours ahead of GMT, the proposed new time zone for the north-east should be 6.5 hours ahead of GMT, or an hour ahead of IST.
While Indian government dithered, a few years ago, a Sri Lankan cricket umpire had the good sense to start a limited overs cricket match at Guwahati between India and New Zealand at 8am.
Play at all other cricket centers in India begins at 9am. By starting an hour early, the umpire ensured that the game ran its full 100-over course before the shadows crept in.
Notwithstanding BJP’s change of heart, researchers at the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bangalore, who analyzed India’s energy consumption patterns, say that setting IST six hours ahead of GMT would be a more “prudent and effective” option than having two time zones which will create complications for airlines, radio, television and other time-linked services.
Currently, Indian time is 5.30 hours ahead of GMT.