Representative image for separate time zone
Representational image. Courtesy: Unsplash

Separate Time Zone For Northeast Is A Must: Here's Why

India's easternmost point is Kibithu in Arunachal Pradesh and the country's western point is Guhar Moti in Rann of Kutch in Gujarat. The distance between the two places is 3750.2 kilometre via NH27. Even after being separated by such a large distance, the people in Kibithu and Guhar Moti follow one single time for their every legal, commercial and social purpose. Meanwhile, even after being separated by a distance of 1480.6 kilometres, there is a time difference of three hours between Florida and Washington- with Florida being three hours ahead of Washington.

December 29, 2020

Does Northeast require a separate time zone? This has been one of the most debated questions in the past over 40 years. The government has repeatedly rejected the demand citing several reasons, however, a separate time zone for the northeast is a must and here's why it is a must!

Early to bed and early to rise

At some point in our childhood, we all must have been told that 'early to bed and early to rise, makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise' and accordingly we were "forced" to and out of the bed early.

Even though the majority of Indians are late sleepers, the children, however, were asked to sleep early. I was strictly asked to take the bed around 9:30 to 10 pm. And since rising early was also important, the alarm was set for 6 am sharp.

However, the question that I often ask myself these days is did I slept or rise early? Did anyone from the seven states of the northeast- Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Manipur, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, and Tripura- everyone hit the bed and got out of it early?

I am saying this because these states receive daylight much before than the rest of the country. Moreover, the sun in the northeast sets earlier compared to the other states leading to early darkness.

India is a vast country and the time difference between India's eastern-most and western-most border is 2 hours. This difference in two hours is crucial- both for the region's economy and the physical development of an individual.

In India, we follow a single time zone- the Indian Standard Time (IST), which is 5 hours and 30 minutes ahead of the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). The IST governs the time for legal, commercial and social purposes and we have been following this uniform time for every purpose.

India's easternmost point is Kibithu in Arunachal Pradesh and the country's western point is Guhar Moti in Rann of Kutch in Gujarat. The distance between the two places is 3750.2 kilometre via NH27. Even after being separated by such a large distance, the people in Kibithu and Guhar Moti follow one single time for their every legal, commercial and social purpose.

Meanwhile, even after being separated by a distance of 1480.6 kilometres, there is a time difference of three hours between Florida and Washington- with Florida being three hours ahead of Washington.

Considering the above examples we can say that there exists a non-uniformity in the distribution of time in India and 10 pm in Gujarat is not equivalent to 10 pm in the Arunachal Pradesh- which in reality should be midnight.

Thus, the concept of early to bed and early to rise has been a lie all these years!

But had there been a separate time zone for the northeast- which was supposed 2 hours ahead of the IST- then we would have practically slept at 10 pm. Following the northeast time zone, the region would have made better use of daylight.

Multiple time zones in India

Time zone in India was established in 1884 and the IST was founded in 1948. However, before independence, the country followed two time zones. The Calcutta Time (5:30:21 hours) was followed in the east and the Bombay Time (4:51:00 hours) was followed in the west.

British India further introduced the Bagan Time or the Garden Time for the tea gardens of Assam, which was 1 hour ahead of the Calcutta Time. The working hours in the tea gardens began at 6 am.

However, the Calcutta Time and the Bombay Time were discontinued in 1948 and 1955 respectively.

Even though the Bagan Time has also been discontinued, however, the tea industry still follows the practice of early working hours. The present working hours at the tea gardens in Assam begin at 7 am.

India did have multiple time zones in the past and there is no reason as to why it can't have another one in the present time.

Circadian rhythm

The reason for the introduction of the Bagan Time by the British and the demand for a separate time zone for the northeast is same- to capitalise on daylight and improve productivity.

The amount of daylight we receive and the total number of hours we sleep have a direct impact on our body and it affects the circadian rhythms- which is synchronised with the rising and the setting of the sun.

Sleep is facilitated by a hormone named melatonin, which is secreted by the brain once the sun sets and darkness begins to fall. A sound sleep is essential for the proper functioning of the brain and better productivity.

Even though the sun rises early in the northeast, the schools, however, begin at a stipulated time which is same across the country. By the time the second or third class begins, the energy of most students gets drained as they woke early.

And when a student reaches home after completing is regular and tuition classes, the sun already sets and the brain begins to secrete melatonin. Even though he may want to sleep, but as he has to complete the homework, he is forced to keep awake and study. This, in a way, is an alteration to the biological clock or the circadian rhythm and has a long-lasting effect on the body.

In Assam, we often hear things like "people in villages sleep earlier than the people in the cities". If we observe, the villagers don't sleep early but they sleep at the scientifically current time. This is one of the reasons that people from villages are more active, productive and efficient in comparison to the people of cities.

During my numerous visits to Itanagar, Kohima, and Dimpapur I had observed that shops and other commercial and business establishments used to open as early as 6 am and put the shutters down latest by 7:30 pm.

On being asked for this early opening and closure of the shops, the owners mostly had one answer- "It is pointless to work for longer hours after sunset. People sleep early and our businesses don't thrive. Closing early helps us save a lot of energy and also keeps us fresh for the morning."

The demand

Noted filmmaker Jahnu Barua, who is also a former scientist with the Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO), has been researching and demanding for a separate time zone for the northeast for nearly three decades.

With India following a single time zone, Barua in an open discussion titled Separate Time Zone for the Northeast in 2010, said that people in the west always have an advantage over the people in the east as they can utilise daylight better.

During another interaction, Barua said that due to the less utilisation of daylight people in the northeast can use only 6 hours of the day productively and this has pushed the region back by several decades.

With the implementation and following of IST since 1947, northeast so far has effectively lost around 30 years in terms of productivity, he said.

Former director of Assam Science Technology & Environment Council (ASTEC) Dr Arup Kumar Mishra, while speaking on the issue said, "The universe performs and sustains it functions based on the Sun as the pivotal source of energy. All other sources of energy are secondary sources.  So since time immemorial human life cycle, activities, achievements and all progress are intrinsically linked up with the local solar time. Defying local time is like separation of time from space."

"All living beings, including human beings, draw the energy of life from the Sun; and not using the solar energy to the fullest possible extent is like sheer wastage of natural endowment. With this logic, how can we force the people of Surat and Shillong to wake up at the same time, work in an office during same hours or go to the bed at the same time?” he further asked.

He further said that by following the IST Northeast has been forced to lose four hours in the morning doing nothing.

"Moreover, working for 4 hours extra with all lights on in the afternoon somehow defies our efforts to go green, arrest carbon footprint and fight climate change menace,” Dr Mishra further said.

Demand for a separate time zone for northeast has been repeatedly made by Arunachal Chief Minister Pema Khandu and also by former Assam chief minister late Tarun Gogoi.

In their demands, the two leaders have claimed that a separate time zone would catalyse the economic growth of the region and help in saving energy.

Former National General Secretary of the National Students’ Union of India (NSUI) Angellica Aribam- who has been advocating for a separate time zone for the northeast- started an online campaign demanding a separate time zone.

According to her, a separate time zone is a logical step towards saving the loss of resources and energy.

Another online campaign seeking a separate time zone for Northeast was launched in 2019 by scholar Nabanita Datta.

According to her, if northeast has a separate time zone that this would increase the region's productivity and save energy around 20 million kWh per year.

Road so far

The demand for a separate time zone for the northeast has hit several roadblocks and the demand has been dismissed citing several reasons.

However, in 2018 in a study published in Current Science, the  CSIR-National Physical Laboratory, CSIR-NPL (the National Measurement Institute, NMI, of India and custodian of Indian Standard Time, IST) proposed that there should be another time zone for the country, which they named IST-II (UTC + 6: 30 h, represented by longitude passing through 97°30?E) encompassing the regions between 89°52?E and 97°25?E.

Defying the findings of the study, the government in December 2018 rejected the demand for a separate time zone for northeast citing "strategic reason".

Opponents of a second-time zone say that having a separate time zone would create immense confusion- especially in the railway timings. It will also create problems for the people living on the border areas of the two time zones.

It has also been said that a separate time zone would further alienate northeast, which already feels is being ignored by Delhi.

Lastly, they feel that a separate time zone would benefit just the northeast and would not benefit the country particularly.

Dr Arup Mishra, however, feels that those opposing a separate time zone are opposing it as we have got used to the existing time zones and the arguments like "ignorance and illiteracy of the Indians to understand the scientific mindset regarding a separate time zone" or "how will the people in the border areas adjust to the change" are merely eyewash statements.

"I have travelled extensively in Brazil, which is far more backward than India. However, people there live across three time zones- Brasilia Time, the Amazons Time, and the Fernando de Noronha Time- without any confusion or chaos," Dr Mishra said.

"If a country having more slums than India can adjust to three time zones then why can't India adjust to two?" he questions.

He further said that with the introduction with a new system, there would be a few initial hiccups, but with time everything would get sorted out.

"Fear of initial hiccups should not stop us from undoing the mistakes of the past and reaping huge societal benefits,” he concluded.

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