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India is in need of two time zones but Indians are not ready yet to accept it as a reality, substantiate the statement.

Indian Standard Time, which is five and a half hours ahead of the Greenwich Mean Time (+5.30 GMT) is an anachronism like many systems that were inherited from the British. In fact, India did not have any single time zone until as late as 1906. A cursory history of time in India reveals that the cities of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras (the three Presidencies, as the British called them) had their own time zones which were determined almost precisely by their geographical longitude.

Calcutta Time, adjusted for the eastern-most city, was set at +5.54 GMT; 24 minutes ahead of the current IST. Madras Time was just nine minutes behind the current IST and was the closest precursor in terms of actual time to IST. Bombay Time, on the other hand, was +4.51 GMT.

So in colonial times, there was a one hour nine minutes time difference between Kolkata and Mumbai. Yet, today these cities, which are 1,650km apart share the same time.

Most Indians are not particularly worried about Indian Standard Time (IST), except for those who live in the Northeast where the sun rises around 4 a.m. in summer, and gets dark well before 4 p.m. in winter. Those of us who have to make overseas long distance calls and get into trouble with fractions are not even aware that we belong to a minority (three per cent) of regions whose standard times are fractional hours off from GMT.

India spans longitudes of 68° at the western end and 98° at the eastern boundary and as there is a difference of one hour for every 15° of longitude, the two extremes differ by two hours. Thus, when the sun sets at 4 p.m. in Kohima, it sets at 6 p.m. in Porbunder. IST was fixed in 1906 midway at 82.5°, or 5/ hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Periodically, there are demands from the Northeast region for a separate time zone so that the clocks there may be advanced by an hour.

There is a general misconception among those who worry about saving energy — such as the Planning Commission — that dividing the country into time zones will save “a lot of energy.” The savings are almost always described by adjectives, for very few have estimated correctly the amount of savings that may accrue by altering IST or creating two time zones. There is also the practice in several countries, of “Daylight Saving Time” (DST), wherein the time in summer is advanced (or the clocks put forward) by one hour and retracted during winter. This enables people to enjoy sunlight longer in summer and avoid the inconveniences of late sunrises and early sunsets during winter.

Proponents of a single time zone argue that India is not as wide as China, which continues to have a single time zone (the country actually spreads across five time zones). In addition, if India were to implement two time zones, there would be utter chaos, not the least to long-distance railway schedules but also to the way business is conducted in India. Partitioning the already divided country further into time zones may also have undesirable political consequences. And where, single time zone proponents, often ask, would the dividing line between these time zones be. Each of these arguments is slightly bunkum.

India has a huge population; if the country were divided into two time zones, there would be chaos at the border between the two zones. It would mean resetting clocks with each crossing of the time zone. There is scope for more dangerous kinds of confusion. Railway signals are not fully automated and many routes have single tracks. Trains may meet with major accidents owing to human errors. Just one such accident would wipe out any benefits resulting from different time zones in the country.

There are also economic benefits to having two different time zones; people will be able to work better and plan better, according to natural cycles rather than the one imposed by the state.

India needs two time zones to function more effectively. The fact is that the sun rises and sets in eastern and North-East India far too early. While IST may work at Shankargarh Fort, in Allahabad, a good basis for time in central India, it fails in the east and west of the country.

Far too many people in India operate in a time zone that is not an appropriate diurnal cycle for them. Adopting two time zones for India is something that the next Government ought to consider and look to implement. This requires an open mind and fresh thinking.

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