Maybe this winter, Sara Elwin will be able to go out to play when she gets back from school. That’s never happened so far. Because by the time Sara comes home at 4 pm, it’s almost dark outside. And playing indoors is discouraged since her parents are tired out by the time evening comes around, having got up at 4 am. Welcome to life in Dimapur, where the sun sets by 4.30 pm and people spend much of their life literally in the dark.
Sara has heard of places, like Gujarat, where sunlight lingers much longer. She’s never been, but is determined to move there when she’s grown up. If the Department of Science and Technology (DST)—which is currently studying the feasibility of having two time zones in India—decides in its favour, Sara won’t have to go anywhere.
News of the study comes soon after Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu’s request to put clocks forward by 30 minutes to an hour in North-east India. “We get up as early as 4 am… and waste several daylight hours as government offices open only at 10 am,” said Khandu, and pointed out that a separate time zone would improve efficiency and save electricity.
For the uninitiated, India’s east-west distance of more than 2,933 km, stretching from Anjaw in Arunachal Pradesh (97.4°E) to Kutch in Gujarat (68.50°E), covers over 28 degrees of longitude. Given that every 15-degree longitudinal shift causes a one-hour time difference, the sun sets and rises almost two hours earlier on India’s eastern border than in the west. But since we follow a uniform India Standard Time (which takes its cue from the meridian that cuts through Allahabad at 81.8°E), clocks in the east or west read the same as the rest.
Khandu is not the first person to demand a separate time zone. Assamese filmmaker Jahnu Baruah has been lobbying for it for decades. In 2014, then Assam chief minister Tarun Gogoi suggested replacing IST with ‘bagaan time’ in his state. He was referring to the schedule followed by tea gardens that run an hour ahead of IST. Earlier, in 2006, the now defunct Planning Commission had suggested introducing two time zones to facilitate energy savings. But the Union government rejected the appeal, saying it would cause chaos across the country, particularly at Indian Railways. Never mind that till Independence, the Railways had followed a Calcutta time, a Madras time and a Bombay time.
Seeing the opposition to the two zones idea, in 2012 researchers from the National Institute of Advanced Studies suggested making the 90°E location near the Assam-Bengal border the IST meridian and putting clocks across India forward by half an hour. This would help the North-east and save India 2.7 billion units of electricity a year, they said. Needless to say, this suggestion, too, got lost in the dark.
Earlier this year, the Gauhati High Court dismissed a PIL seeking a direction to the Union government to have a separate time zone for the North-east. But they say it’s darkest before dawn, so let’s wait and see what the DST says. Sara, for one, is waiting.