Did you know that before India became independent, the country was following three time zones? They were Bombay, Calcutta and Madras Time. As the country had no official time zone until 1906, there were three local times for the three cities (Bombay, Calcutta and Madras), depending on where they fell on the longitude scale. These three time zones were then followed by all the states or cities around their vicinity.
Over the decades, there has been a rising consensus among citizens, politicians and scientists asking to have two different time zones for India. This debate has been ongoing for quite some time now as the demand for separate zones is based on the huge difference in daylight times between the country’s longitudinal extremes. Some also argue for the idea, pointing towards the costs associated with following the same time zone. For instance, Northeastern states such as Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Arunachal Pradesh, Manipur, Mizoram, Tripura and the island state of Andaman and Nicobar Islands have been demanding different time zones as they face difficulty in managing their routine work schedule.
In these states, the sun rises and sets earlier than the official working hours followed in other states or what we know as the Indian Standard Time (IST). This causes a few problems in terms of lower productivity and makes electric consumption much higher there. Early sunrise also leads to loss of daylight hours by the time offices or educational institutions typically open. In winter, this gets severe as the sun sets much earlier. To deal with this, tea gardens in Assam have been following the ‘Chaibagaan time’ which is an hour ahead of IST. Currently, India follows a single time zone based on the longitude passing through 82°33′E.
Recently, a new study conducted by researchers from CSIR-NPL, published in the journal Current Science has also spoken in support of two separate time zones and said it is feasible to have dual time zones for these states. The study added that “technically it is possible to have two time zones and two ISTs in India. IST-I can be used for most parts of India and IST- II for the Northeastern region, which would be separated by a difference of an hour.”
Those against the idea of dual time zones cite impracticability — pointing out the risk of railway accidents, given the need to reset times at every crossing from one time zone into the other. Dr Harsh Vardhan, Minister of Science & Technology, Health and Family Welfare and Earth Sciences has said that it is not possible because of strategic reasons.
While speaking at the Parliament on this topic, the minister had said, “Council of Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) – National Physical Laboratory (NPL) has published certain reports in science journals on this issue, referring to the saving of electricity. The matter was examined by a High Level Committee (HLC). This committee comprises Secretary, Department of Science and Technology, Director, Council of Scientific and Industrial Research-National Physical Laboratory (CSIR-NPL) and Chief Secretary, Government of Tripura. The HLC, after considering the issue, recommended not to have two time zones for India for strategic reasons.”
The east of India sees the sun two hours earlier than the west. People who support the demand for two time zones have argued that the country should adopt two zones to make the best use of daylight in eastern India, where the sun rises and sets much earlier than the far west. Due to the timing of the sunrise, people in east India begin using their lights much earlier in the day, thus increasing the usage of electricity.
The rising and setting of the sun also have a significant impact on our body clocks or what we call the circadian rhythm [It is a natural, internal process that regulates the sleep-wake cycle and repeats roughly every 24 hours]. As it gets darker in the evening after sunset, the body begins to produce the sleep hormone melatonin that helps us to doze off.
According to a research paper by Maulik Jagnani, an economist at Cornell University, a single time zone leads to a decline in the quality of sleep, especially among children from weaker economic backgrounds. This, he states, “ends up reducing the quality of their education. This is how it happens. The school day starts at more or less the same time everywhere in India but children go to bed later and have reduced sleep in areas where the sun sets later. An hour’s delay in sunset time reduces children’s sleep by 30 minutes.”
The economist also claims to have found evidence that sunset-induced sleep deprivation is observed more among the poor, especially during the times when households face severe financial constraints. “This might be because sleep environments among poor households are associated with noise, heat, mosquitoes, overcrowding, and overall uncomfortable physical conditions. The poor may lack the financial resources to invest in sleep-inducing goods like window shades, separate rooms, indoor beds and adjust their sleep schedules,” he told BBC. “In addition, poverty may have psychological consequences like stress, negative affective states, and an increase in cognitive load that can affect decision-making,” he added.
So, we could say that the moral of the story here is sleep is linked to productivity, and an inaccurate time zone could create disturbance in the lives of people, especially poor children.
Do you think India needs two time zones? Tell us in the comments section below.
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