Assam Moves an Hour Ahead of IST


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Myself . By T.V. Antony Raj

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Tea plantation in Assam

Tea plantation in Assam

Surprisingly, though India is a very large country spanning more than 15 degrees of longitude, from points further east than Bangladesh to the western Arabian Sea, it has only one time zone of +5:30 from Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). The Indian Standard Time (IST) corresponds to 82.5°E longitude. Though this line passes through several major Indian cities, the Vindhyachal town, west of the town of Mirzapur near Allahabad in the state of Uttar Pradesh is most cited.

The difference in longitude between Vindhyachal town and the United Kingdom’s Royal Observatory at Greenwich translates to an exact time difference of 5 hours 30 minutes. Though the National Physical Laboratory in New Delhi, has the task of officially keeping time, a clock tower at the Allahabad Observatory (25.15°N 82.5°E) is used to calculate Indian local time.

Since there is only one time zone throughout India, states to the east of this longitude have less daylight hours in comparison to the other states lying west of Vindhyachal town.

Parts of eastern India, particularly the Northeast, bear the twin burden of very early summer sunrises and very early winter sunsets. Parts of the Northeast are brighter by about 4 am in June and dark before 5 pm in December.

Pre-independence India had two time zones – the Calcutta Time and the Bombay Time. In the East, Calcutta Time was 5:30:21 hours ahead of GMT, while Bombay Time in the West was 4:51:00 hours ahead of GMT. Calcutta Time was abandoned in 1948 and Bombay Time in 1955.

Since independence in 1947, the IST has been the official time for the whole country.

In the research paper published in 2012, scientists from the National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS) in Bangalore recommended advancing IST by half-hour, setting it at +6.00 GMT instead of the current +5.30 GMT by shifting the time zone from 82.5°E longitude to 90°E longitude, closer to the Assam-Bengal border. This move will benefit all states in India, not just the northeast, by saving more than 2.7 billion units of electricity – enough to power 1.35 million more urban middle-class homes.

 

Dr. Dilip Ahuja, Professor, National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore

Dr. Dilip Ahuja, NIAS, Bangalore

Dr. Dilip Ahuja, author of the 2012 research paper, in response to queries by email said that different time zones can be potentially problematic in India.

“Government offices in those states will close at different times and would be accessible only 75% of the time which can cause a potential loss of productivity.”

Dr. Ahuja also said that different time zones could cause chaos for Indian railways, although airlines may still manage.

“India is a country where trains change tracks by manual switching. Different time zones could cause major confusion in communications between train operators and lead to accidents.”

Additional daylight hours in the evenings would be people-friendly, would help save power at home and in offices, reduce petty crimes among other gains, scientists have said.

Kapil Kaul, CEO South Asia CAPA - Centre for Aviation, India

Kapil Kaul, CEO South Asia CAPA – Centre for Aviation, India

Mr. Kapil Kaul, CEO South Asia CAPA – Centre for Aviation, India, said:

“Separate time zone would not have a major impact on airlines, except they will have to adapt to arrival and departure timings. In the US, there is a time difference between West coast and East coast, but it does not create big problems for airlines.”

Earlier, The Energy and Resources Institute, New Delhi, too has found that the 116-minute time difference between the easternmost and westernmost points of India imply that two time zones for the country may be apt. However, The Department of Science and Technology has recommended otherwise.

The Centre discarded the move citing administrative challenges.

Now, the state of Assam has decided to follow the ‘chaibagaan’ time instead of the Indian Standard Time that was in vogue more than 150 years ago.

Tarun Gogoi, the Chief Minister of Assam

Tarun Gogoi, the Chief Minister of Assam

Tarun Gogoi, the Chief Minister of Assam, had said that IST has not only affected productivity, but also has forced the state to follow a schedule not suitable to the time zone Assam is in. Gogoi is quoted as saying:

“The northeastern states have been asking New Delhi for a separate time zone. We have now decided to set our clocks to bagaan time.”

More than 150 years ago, the British introduced the chaibagaan time (or bagaan time), a daylight saving schedule for better energy savings on tea plantations and reflects labour laws, such as the Plantations Labour Act of 1951, which allows governments to set local times for particular areas. Tea gardens in Assam already work to local clocks set an hour in advance of IST.

Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said the change in time zone will help not only cut down on energy consumption, but also will help people to become more energetic.

The clocks in Assam would soon be advanced by an hour ahead of the IST. However, Tarun Gogoi has not stated whether the Centre has accepted the decision.

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