North-east India wants to reset the clock

Leading figures from politics, science and the arts are calling for a separate time zone for north-eastern India in a bid to save energy.

It is 6pm in Ahmedabad and the locals can nibble on snacks in broad daylight. The sun will not set here for another hour.
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Leading figures from politics, science and the arts are calling for a separate time zone for north-eastern India in a bid to save energy. About 250 prominent members from seven states recently met and pledged to lobby the federal government to advance the region's clock by at least 90 minutes. The change, they said, would help them make the most of their daylight hours, cut energy consumption and make people more productive. India is covered by one time zone, but at the convention of "Separate Time Zone for the North-east" in Guwahati in January, participants argued that the sun usually rises and sets in north-eastern India about an hour and a half earlier than it does in the west of the country.

"The time difference between the eastern-most and western-most borders of the country is almost two hours," said Jahnu Barua, an acclaimed filmmaker and former Indian Space Research Organisation TV producer. "The north-east region gets daylight much before the rest of the country. "As a first step we would be formally apprising the eight regional governments and also the 24 parliamentarians of the north-east to lobby for the separate time zone in parliament." Bhabesh Sharma, a geography teacher in Guwahati, said the time of sunrise in Imphal, the capital of the north-eastern state of Manipur, was 5.36am while in the western city of Ahmedabad it was 7am. He added that the sunset times were 5.17pm and 6.43pm. "We have every reason to demand a separate time zone for the north-east, considering the geo-location of the region," said Mr Sharma, who attended the convention. Supporters of the separate time zone said that in addition to saving electricity in a nation where power shortages routinely led to blackouts, it would make workers more comfortable and improve efficiency. Mr Barua, one of the conveners of the convention, said when a country functions on a single standard time, the people in the west are always in an advantageous position, compared to those in the east, because they start their day earlier. "All the prosperous and most productive states of the country, such as Maharashtra, Punjab and Gujarat, lie on the west of the Indian Standard Time longitude. "Being situated in the far east, the north-east wastes two to three hours of daylight every day and ends up being the least productive, least progressive and least prosperous," said Mr Barua, who has been pushing for a separate time zone for north-east India for more than two decades. Sanatan Singh, a doctor in Manipur said that the "human body is most active in the morning hours" and by the time people in north-east India attend their schools and offices, most of their energetic time is over. India's single time zone stretches nearly 3,000km. In comparison, the United States is 5,200km wide and has four zones, and Canada, is 5,060km wide and has six time zones. However, China, which stretches for 5,000km, has one single time zone.

In 1884, India's British rulers introduced two time zones set 39 minutes apart, then known as Bombay Time and Calcutta Time. But in 1906 Calcutta Time was adopted as the single Indian Standard Time. Since then, there have been several demands for a separate time zone for the north-east. About a decade ago activists first raised the issue and appealed to the federal ministry seeking a solution. In 2001, the federal government set up a committee of experts under the department of science and technology, to examine the issue and sought its advice. The department however rejected the appeal from the north-east. In 2007, the demand resurfaced when the parliamentary standing committee on energy asked government experts to reconsider multiple time zones as an energy-saving measure. The committee advised against multiple time zones as the benefits were not proportionate to the practical problems. In a televised debate on the issue, Milind Agarwal, a Delhi University lecturer, said that, although separate time zones were a good idea for any large country, it would not suit India. "In a country with so many illiterate people, many of whom don't even have a proper concept of date, time or year, such conventions will add to confusion and create havoc," said Mr Agarwal. But according to some politicians, a separate time zone also carries an implication of separate identity. "In the [north-east] region many anti-national movements are going on," said Tathagata Roy, a leader of the Hindu nationalist BJP in Kolkata. "If they succeed to get a separate time zone, many could take it as a victory for their secessionist movements."