Time Is Precious “Early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.”
India’s North-Eastern states lag behind the other states of the mainland in almost all measures and parameters of economic growth. Since the Independence, the states of North East India have fallen behind the rest of the country and the bedrock of backwardness is the poor productivity of the people. The rampant insurgency and geographical isolation, poor infrastructure, meager employment opportunities and low population are some of the reasons for this. The states of the North-East have many political, ideological and ethnic differences. The overall perception of people of mainland India is that people of the North-East are lazy and unproductive. There are many factors for the backwardness of these states—their location, weather conditions, political leadership, availability of raw materials etc. make then abysmally less productive than the rest of India. Notwithstanding the blame game of Centre’s neglect, one of the fundamental reasons for the backwardness is the loss of a major portion of daytime for these states as Indian Standard Time (IST) meridian line lies in Mirzapur, near Allahabad, which is too westerly of the region. Maybe the answer lies in the fact that India has a single time zone placing states of the North-East at great disadvantage. People of the North East have frequently demanded a different time zone ahead of IST, in which the nine to five working days would be in sync with the sun, but this simple demand was presumably sacrificed at the altar of national unity. One nation, one people, one time zone and no complaining.
Up till a couple of centuries ago, the day in India as in other parts of the world was held to have begun at sunrise, not at midnight; even the idea of “standard time” first came about because of the advent of the railways. The British adopted the international standard time zones in 1905 when the meridian passing through Mirzapur at 82.5º east (of Greenwich Meridian) longitude was picked as the central meridian for India, corresponding to a single time zone for the country at 5 hours and 30 minutes in advance of GMT. This went into force on January 1, 1906.
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 easternmost 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. There was a one hour nine minutes time difference between Kolkata and Mumbai. Yet, today these cities, which are 1,650 km apart, share the same time. Only in the tea estates of Assam, where the concept of ‘bagaan time’ (estate time) exists, is there a provision for a separate time zone inside India. ‘Bagaan time’ is one hour ahead of IST.
Calcutta time was officially maintained as a separate time zone until 1948. Bombay time was maintained but only informally until about 1955. After the Independence, Pakistan stayed on Indian Standard Time for three years and then adopted Pakistan Standard Time at 5 hours in advance of GMT in 1951.
India’s financial capital, Mumbai, lies at longitude 78°82′ E compared to Imphal which lies at longitude 93°95′ E. It means that Imphal is ahead of Mumbai and Delhi by one hour as every 15° of longitude is equivalent to one hour. The sun rises in Kohima at 4 am, it rises in Mumbai two hours later. Offices start in the northeast six hours after daybreak as against four in the rest of India. Working and sleeping hours get postponed. The real clock differs from the official clock. Daylight hours are wasted, leading to higher power consumption. In fact, offices in Manipur should start at 7am in order to achieve some level of efficiency and try catching up with the rest of the country. Moreover, people of Manipur are early risers by tradition compared to people in Mumbai and Delhi who sleep very late and rise very late. As a result, the actual difference in time when people of the North-East and Delhi/Mumbai rise would be around 3 hours on an average. In addition, people of Manipur generally reach office at around 10.30 am or 11 am with a full stomach which results in a slothful and lethargic start to the day’s work compared to people of Mumbai who have a light breakfast and rush to office to reach by 9 am or 9.30 am. The end result is that people of Manipur lose around 4.5 hours to 5 hours of daylight compared to people of Mumbai. It is also significant to note that this 4.5 or 5 hours in the morning is supposedly the most productive time of the day in terms of efficiency. The people of eastern India spend a large part of the day literally in the dark, especially in winter. It does not take a doctor to tell one that the human body works best in sunlight. Changing time zones when we travel internationally can seriously disturb physical cycles. If the sun rises too early and sets too early, or vice versa, as per the local time, it can also disturb body cycles.
Russia, which spans a large number of longitudes has eleven time zones, Canada spans six, and the 48 continental states of the USA span four time zones. On the other hand, nearly all of Western Europe (excluding the UK and Portugal) is on one time zone. Even though the European countries are sovereign territories, a common time zone encourages travel and trade. A train ride from Poland to Spain crosses several countries, but does not require resetting the watch. Singapore is an example of a country that has kept their clock an hour ahead of the standard time longitude. While Singapore’s longitude is 105° E they have kept their time on 120° E, keeping the country one hour ahead. China too follows the longitude of 120° E as their time zone, keeping almost the entire country to the west of their time meridian. Bangladesh, which lies to the west of the North-East India (Dhaka is at 90° E), keeps its time 30 minutes ahead of India. In addition, Bangladesh advances its clock by an hour in winter months. Thus, for five months of the year, Bangladesh Standard Time is one-an–a-half hours ahead of India. Several northern countries in Europe and most of the US adopt Daylight Saving Times. People there put their watches back and forward twice a year. There are some missed flights and a bit of confusion but nothing as bad as the disaster theorists predict.
Bagaan Time-Tea Time
The tea garden workers in Assam are already an hour into their job of plucking tea leaves in the early morning while the rest of India hasn’t even started for the workplace, because of an old British legacy. Tea gardens in West Bengal and Assam follow a time zone which is an hour in advance than the Indian Standard Time. As the sun sets early in this part of India, so work needed to be started early too, hence the colonial masters had implemented an advanced timing system for the tea industry.
There was no electricity, modern facilities or even awareness regarding timing among tea garden workers. Plucking and working the tea fields was a daylight job. Most of the tea gardens were the zones of the Royal Bengal Tigers, and workers felt safe only when they were in their homes after nightfall. Hence a system had to be adopted so that people worked expeditiously and efficiently, and this system has served its purpose by increasing productivity of tea garden workers. Generally, pluckers work in the gardens for eight hours, excluding an hour of lunch break. While they have to report for attendance at 6 a.m. (IST 5 a.m.), their working time is generally between 9 a.m. (IST 8 a.m.) to 5 pm (IST 4 pm). This varies from garden to garden. So tuned are the tea workers to this timing that their other activities too are tuned to the bagaan time.
Though the government has consistently refused to split the country into multiple time zones, provisions in labour laws such as the Plantations Labour Act, 1951 allow the Central and State governments to define and set the local time for a particular industrial area. For most of India’s history, ruling kingdoms kept their own local time, typically using the Hindu calendar in lunar and solar units.
In 2001, the Central government, following a PIL on the matter, set up a committee to examine the issue. While maintaining there was no need for a different time zone for the North-East, it recommended advancing office timings by a couple of hours each season. In 2007, the Department of Science & Technology had examined the feasibility of setting up dual time for India. They recommended that the clocks in the region must be advanced by at least one hour in summer and two hours in winter months of October to February. These recommendations were turned down citing acute administrative challenges it would pose. Also, a separate time zone cannot be introduced arbitrarily against international conventions. Plus, there would be logistical problems like keeping pace with the railway and airlines timings. The National Institute of Advanced Studies, Bengaluru has cited that that all states in India, not just the North-East, will save power if the IST is set at six hours ahead of GMT instead of 5.30 hours ahead of GMT. The IST should be shifted from 82.5 degrees E longitude to 90 degrees E closer to the Assam-Bengal border. Most parts of eastern India bear what the NIAS researchers call the twin burden of very early summer sunrises and very early winter sunsets. Parts of the North-East are bright by about 4 am in June and dark before 5 pm in December. 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.
The apparent and visible advantages of the two zone theory are:
- Increased productivity: An early start would mean more energetic people in the work places. This will result in better efficiency and increased productivity.
- Reduced power consumption: The North-East faces a perennial problem of power shortage. Starting and closing an hour or two earlier would result in a saving of an hour’s electricity consumption in offices. A conservative estimate shows that starting the day an hour earlier would result in a saving of about 850 MW of power in the North-East itself.
- 3. Curbing alcoholism and crime: The need to reach offices early and start work early would encourage people to reduce consumption of alcohol to some extent. Late start of working hours give the leverage and cushion for people to indulge in heavy drinking at night as one is aware that there are enough morning hours to beat and overcome the hangover.
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. A dividing line can be decided across several States—India’s eastern States and the country’s North-East can easily have separate time zones. And where would the dividing line between these time zones be? It will be a delicate decision to carve out the two time zones. It will have to pass through the boundaries of Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh. These states have nearly even physical structure, with good train and road connectivity between them. A new IST will inconvenience the flow of goods and people. Politically, too, it is a hot potato. All said and done, a separate time zone may carry with it implications of a separate identity. With various separatist movements going on in the North-East for decades, some believe that if the region succeeds in getting a separate time zone, many could take it as a victory for their secessionist movements. Besides, a different time zone may further alienate an already alienated people from the rest of the country.
The beauty of a single time zone lies in its simplicity. Everyone is on the same time. A single time, a single shared experience, no matter where you are in India, unifies the nation. While there seem to be arguments both for and against the use of more than one time zone, the alternative proposal of shifting the IST meridian eastward is an interesting one, which is likely to lead to more debate on the topic.
Earlier this year, Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi’s announcement that he would set the time ahead by one hour in the state stirred a hornet’s nest. He talked of implementing ‘Tea Gardens Time’ or the ‘bagaan time’ all over the state. This brought a disputed topic out of the closet. It was seen as a political provocation even more subversive than the demand for secession. His announcement sparked a set of fiery debates about nationalism, federalism, daylight, energy, geography, the tyranny of the (Indian) west over the east, and time in its real, psychological and metaphysical aspects. However, he saw sense and did not implement his decision.
Noted Assamese filmmaker Jahnu Barua has been a strong advocate of a separate time zone for the Northeast. His argument that “there is a need to make productive use of daylight from 4 am to 10 am. People in the North-East almost waste their time and wait for 10 am to go to office. If the clock is advanced by an hour or 90 minutes, we can really make productive use of daylight. Having to follow the IST, the people of the North-East are subjected to do all their day to day activities at wrong time. They wake up a minimum two hours after sunrise; have breakfast after minimum four hours of daylight, start of office hours only at middle of the day, lunch at three to four hours after midday, dinner after five to six hours of darkness and finally going to bed much after midnight.”
By Anil Dhir