Assam beats the clock, decides on time zone an hour ahead of Indian Standard Time

Written by FE Online | Guwahati | Updated: Jan 3 2014, 16:09pm hrs
It is time to take time seriously. Indian Standard Time discriminates against Assam, putting the daylight hours there out of gear with the circadian clock.

Assam is taking steps to advance clocks an hour ahead of Indian Standard Time (IST), which is followed all across the country.

Assam has frequently demanded a different time zone ahead of IST, in which the nine to five working day would be in sync with the sun and teatime would arrive reliably at, well, teatime. But this simple demand was presumably sacrificed at the altar of national unity. One nation, one people, one time zone and no complaining.

The western and eastern extremities of India are separated by just four minutes short of two hours. In the interest of practicality, the country could be divided into two time zones, perhaps centred on Mumbai and Kolkata, which are separated by one hour and three minutes of real time. Indeed, Bombay Time and Calcutta Time were defined in 1884 and the latter survived until 1948, when it was superseded by IST. Calcutta Time was 24 minutes ahead of IST but now, Assam proposes to adopt the old, unofficial bagan time, which is a whole hour ahead and was designed to allow tea gardens to get their work done by daylight alone.

The efficiency dividend of time-zoning is so obvious that were it not for the symbolic demands of national unity, India may have been zoned in 1948. But now, an equally urgent imperative may force the issue. In an energy-poor country, power saving is a compelling argument, and two times zone will slash bills substantially. Three time zones including Assam would be even more efficient. But wait! What if China retaliates by decreeing that it will henceforth be the same time in Lhasa and Tawang Politics, ugly politics, just biding its time.

Assam's plan to reset clock gets widespread support

Assam CM Tarun Gogoi has a peculiar New Year wish: he wants to bring the clock forward by an hour and create a local time, so that people in the state do not have to wait till the rest of India wakes up and starts working. I want to advance the clock by one hour so that we can make the best use of daytime and also save energy, he said.

But Gogoi is not the first person in recent times to moot this idea. While filmmaker Jahnu Barua has been working on this possibility for the past two decades, a four-member committee constituted by the department of science & technology (DST) in 2001 had also examined the feasibility of a separate time zone for the Northeast. In 2007, the parliamentary standing committee on energy considered the issue.

It is nothing new. The upper Assam districts had local time or bagan time in the tea estates as well as the Digboi refinery because the sun rises much earlier in this region. Some tea gardens still follow a local time, Gogoi said.

A group of 15 Congress MLAs from Assam had in July last year submitted a memorandum to the prime minister and the UPA chairperson seeking a separate time zone for the Northeast. We had brought up the matter in the state Assembly too and received support from all parties. Later, we heard a committee constituted by the government of India had also given a favourable report, said Congress MLA Debabrata Saikia.

Filmmaker Barua, who has been running a campaign for the past five-six years, has pointed out that even re-introduction of local time would immensely benefit Assam. I am surprised and happy that Gogoi has come up with a proposal that I mooted 25 years ago. The entire Northeast needs a separate time zone, he said. Barua pointed out that there was a two-hour time difference between Indias eastern and western borders. On a day if the sun rises at 4 am in Kohima, it would rise at around 6 am in Mumbai.

As we have a single time zone, meal time and work and sleep hours are the same across the country. This causes a delay of two hours in the Northeast compared to the western part of the country, and of an hour compared to northern and central India, Barua said.

It is a welcome step that needs to be immediately implemented, said chairman of North-East Tea Association.