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India’s Reliance on One Time Zone

By Madhav Grover


India is the fastest growing economy in the world and one of the largest economies in Asia. The primary goal for the country is to become a regional and global superpower. The country spans roughly 3.287 million km² in land mass making it the 7th largest Nation in the world. But unlike other large rapidly expanding nations it only follows one-time zone. India follows the time along 82.5° east longitude which is set as the Indian Standard Time (IST), 5 and a half hours ahead of the Coordinated Universal Time (UTC). This is rather peculiar as India’s land mass spans over longitude 68°7′ east to 97°25′ east. This leads to a 2-hour time difference between the eastern and western corners of India. The country adhering to this strict one time zone policy comes with its shortcomings which are rather prevalent in the North-eastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Nagaland, Sikkim, Tripura, Mizoram and Manipur. There have been various efforts made by the state governments of the region to change this particular time zone and arguments by economist and activists still nothing has been changed. This paper looks at the various consequences on India having one time zone and also analyses the different alternatives for a possible solution to the issue.

History of Time Zones in India    

The earliest known recorded account of a standardised time in India was observed in an astronomical treatise called the Pañcasiddhāntikā written dated around 5th century CE. This work was composed by Varāhamihira who was a Vedic Astrologer and Mathematician and concluded his earlier texts which were namely Surya Siddhanta, Paitamaha Siddhanta, Paulisa Siddhanta, Romaka Siddhanta and Vasishtha Siddhanta. The Surya Siddhanta was the work done on observation of the positioning and movement related to the Sun believed to be composed by Mayasura (a Hindu mythological figure). The Surya Siddhanta concluded that the average duration of a year would be 365.2421756 days which is just 1.4 seconds shorter than the exact modern value.  It also calculated time taking the longitude just crossing the town of Avanti (modern-day Ujjain, MP) and even the city of Rohtak in Haryana. In the study, the most basic unit of time was one respiratory cycle called the prāṇa the pala contains six prāṇas. The ghalikā is 60 palas, and the nakṣatra ahórātra, or one solar day, contains 60 ghalikās. A nakṣatra māsa or one lunar month consists of 30 nakṣatra ahórātras.

The Surya Siddhanta also prescribed ways convert local time to the specified standardised time of Avanti still various kingdoms in India continued to follow their own time without paying much attention to these early advancements. This was done as a kingdom wanted to maintain their sovereignty by following their time zone rather than sharing it with some other kingdom. The Jantar Mantar built by Rajputs in Jaipur dated 1733 is such an example as the sundial showed time by measuring the position of the sun on the area for a kingdom to follow. The kingdoms also used to follow the religious calendar in solar and lunar values.

Then the British administration in colonial India formulated a standardised time zone for the whole country rather than honouring the time zones followed by different kingdoms. This decision was both administrative and economic. In 1884 the country was divided into distinct time zones in the three main presidencies of Bombay, Calcutta and Madras formally known as Bombay time, Calcutta time and Madras time. Calcutta was set at UTC+05.54, making it +00:24 of the current IST. Madras was set at UTC+05:21 making it -00:09 of the current IST. Bombay was set at UTC+04:51, making it -01:19 of the current IST. This was done in accordance to the most important cities of that time. This at the time was done strategically as it was deemed an essential decision for the economic trade. During this period, Port Blair meantime was also set up by the colonial government to administer the islands of Andaman and Nicobar and also mainly the large prisons built there. There was also the Chai Bagan Time set up for the tea plantations primarily in the north-east regions of Assam etc. This practice of having multiple time zones, however, was to be removed in 1904 due to the development of the railway system to provide a centralised timing for efficiency. The British administration at the time took the longitude somewhat between Bombay and Calcutta which happened to be Madras. John Goldinagam first observed this longitude in 1804 at the Madras Observatory in Nungamnbakkam; it was time zone of that town which due to reasonably apparent reasons was named Railway Time. The difference between the GMT and the Railway time was too imperfect leading to Indian time being set precisely 5 and half hours ahead of GMT. This time zone was situated at 82.5° east longitude which also passed through the town of Mirzapur near the city of Allahabad in Uttar Pradesh, it at the time was also followed by Ceylon (Sri Lanka). The railway time was strictly followed in Colonial India ever since with certain exceptions such as briefly railway time was advanced by an hour during the world war II, known as wartime which lasted from September 1, 1942, to October 15, 1945.

On September 1st 1947, the newly independent India’s government adopted the Indian Standard Time (IST) to be followed by the whole nation. There were certain exceptions as Kolkata officially maintained a separate time zone till 1948 and Mumbai continued using its time zone until 1955. There were various reasons for not adopting this change as in Bombay, a well-renowned freedom fighter Lokamanya Tilak was being Charged in a seditionist bombing case, and various renowned lawyers and activists such as Pherozeshah Mehta was arguing against it during the colonial period causing a great deal of unrest among the general public. Even the Bombay municipal corporation (BMC) continued using the Bombay time rather than shifting to the newly adopted time zone. This instability created continued as the city of Bombay was now following three time zones where Bombay time was observed from Mahim to Sion, the British administration supported railway time and then the Port Signal Time followed by the eastern seaports and naval bases which was set 5 hours ahead of GMT as compared to 5 and a half hours. The chai Bagan time which was to be 1 hour ahead of the IST was followed by the various specific regions in the north-eastern states. This time zone gave ample daylight saving for the workers and provided more working output for better productivity. This practice continued in independent India, and the Plantations Labour Act of 1951 gave legitimacy to the workers of the plantations fields to carry on with this practice. The act stated that specific local time zone could be adapted for a particular area in various states whereas the state itself has to follow the Indian Standard Time (IST).  

Independent modern India has committed itself to follow a single time zone, with exceptions to the Daylight Savings Time (DST). This time zone was adopted during the Indo-China war of 1962 and the Indo-Pak war of 1965 and 1971

The concept of Daylight savings

The concept of daylight saving refers to the practice of changing the time during a particular season in an area. This practice relates to the idea of saving more sunlight to utilize the natural light resource rather than using energy. This broader concept has been used due to how the earth rotates periodical in one solar year and also how the rotation and the movement affect the daylight on the surface of the earth. This practice is relatively common in the western nation to ensure maximum efficiency all around the year.  There are 24 time zones which can be followed by different countries of 15° longitude each in the world. Each country usually sets its own local time, which is expressed in the number of hours in advance of GMT which is the prime meridian situated in Greenwich England. The whole Indian subcontinent covers two standard time zones (2 hours) But, India as a nation follows just one-time zone. The longitude of a particular area is used to measure and predict the time of sunrise and sunset. The Places situated in the east will have an early sunrise and sunset, and those areas which are located in the west will witness a late sunrise and sunset according to the time and the position of earth corresponding to the sun. This also depends upon particular seasons and other related periodic durations of movement of the earth. The universal principle is the day corresponds to the latitude of the place, the higher the latitude is located, the longer duration of a day in summer and shorter duration of a day in winter. For instance, sunrise at during the summer solstice, and herein, the sun in Delhi has risen earlier than that in Mysore. It is only during the autumn and spring season that Delhi and Mysore have sunrise at somewhat the same time.

The argument in favour of a change in Time zone

This argument has been favoured and refuted by various research institutes, Government and private think tanks. The argument in favour of having various time zones consists of various parameters such as the argument on consumption of energy. This argument relates to the wastage of electricity which is caused by the loss of daylight hours especially in the north-eastern states of Arunachal Pradesh, Assam etc. The argument of daylight savings and wastage of electricity is interlinked as due to wastage of daylight hours in the northeast there is more energy required to sustain the different sectors of the economy. Even though the Indian power grid is one of the biggest with 232 GW of installed capacity still, we face a deficit with regard to energy which grows every year. The national institute of advanced studies once a study concluded that the inclusion of a different time zone than the IST would lead to 2.7 billion units of electricity in a year. The total energy saving estimate for a day is around 0.202 GWh which is about 0.3% of the current consumption of the nation. The percentage savings in evening peak energy is 16% which is astronomical can achieved at a national level.  It is recognised that evening peak demand is the most difficult to meet in the states. The use of various costly and polluting sources of production of electricity is used to meet this demand such as usage of non-renewable sources like natural gases, diesel etc. if we consider average per unit of evening electricity is Rs. 9, then the average money saved would be Rs. 103 crores. This would help alleviate the current deficit of evening demand. When this is at a national level saving would increase even further creating more money for the state to put into various other developmental projects. The scientists have estimated a whopping Rs. 1500 crores for the Indian economy. As the sun rises early in the eastern part of the country, there is a gap of 2 hours. This takes a toll on various essential industries of the northeast such as the petroleum and tea industries in Assam etc. utilization of sunlight properly is also crucial for the agrarian sector of the Indian economy to have maximum efficiency. The planning commission of India also pointed out the implications of having multiple time zones in India in 2011. The department of science and technology is also conducting a study since 2017 for the current government to check the feasibility of this concept. In their study, they’ll be emphasizing the effects on transportation. Other arguments given by various parties include social problems faced by the people for the northeast due to less productive work hours. Another thing which is of relevance is the mindset of the people of the northeast as they have a felt a sense of seclusion from the Indian mainland due to its geography and the parity IST represents for them has contributed to that notion.

The argument against the change in time zones

The primary argument presented by the government relates to the aspect of efficiency due to the centralisation of time. There are various vital sectors of the economy which will be affected if the country alters its time zone to follow multiple time zones. The Indian railways will have a drastic effect if multiple time zones are followed. The railways have been significant transportation for the Indian public due to its cost and efficiency. If multiple time zones are followed, Indian railways would have to reschedule the entire vast network of trains across the subcontinent. This may result in an administrative disaster for this particular transportation sector. Apart from the railways, even banking would have a drastic effect on the banking sector and other financial institutions use a standard time, and money transactions are very. The central government has been working to formalise the banking structure of India and has been committed to various modern reforms in the financial structure. Various reports have in the past also pointed against this change. The north-eastern grid and eastern grid together constitute 12% of average and a time shift would have a negligible effect. Concerning having multiple time zones, in a study conducted by The Energy and Resources research institute which concluded that there would be a net increase in the energy consumption rather than a decrease. They look into the functioning of daylight savings and conclude due to a backward shift in the time of the southern and northern grid areas, there will be half an hour of extra sunlight during the morning, and half an hour of extra darkness in the evening, resulting in a net increase in energy consumption. Apart from those various countries in Asia such as China have also committed itself only to follow one-time zone although the country is larger than in India in both land mass and economy. The country has various time zones following through it whereas it follows only one as a sign of unity and still has managed to grow its economy at a rapid pace. This also one of the various reasons why India still follows the one-time zone


There are three main alternatives which the country can resort to concerning time zones if we resort to altering or changing the current policy of following the IST. The three main arguments are: –

The argument made by the northeast is to adopt another time specifically for the seven sister’s states at GMT+6 hours along with the IST which is at GMT+5 and a half hours. This would lead to an administrative blunder due to the effect on the transportation and other sectors of the economy. It could also create a sense of seclusion rather than inclusion of the northeast as they would be following a different time zone than rest of India. Various research institutes have also concluded that it would not be as energy efficient to the rest of India as the north-eastern states. This may also lead to more energy consumption than savings.  

The other more feasible argument relates to shifting the time zone by half-hour permanently making the time zone to be followed by India to be IST+1/2 hours. This study is seen to be the most realistic alternative to the issue corresponding to the problem of time zones. Various studies show that this alternative would reap more benefits as administratively the IST would be changed but it will still be one for the nation.  The other advantage of it would be that this will also save daylight hours for the northeast and energy consumption for the country.

Another argument can be to use the concept of Daylight saving time of IST+1/2 hours during the months where utilisation of sunlight is necessary from April to September. This idea is inspired by various western nations and would also help reduce energy consumption to an extent. This method, however, would be very difficult administratively as the time zone would have to be changed periodically. This method would not also deliver the most suitable results such as the solution pertaining to changing the time zone once to IST+1/2 hours.

The question of changing the time zone has wide-ranging effects on not only the north-eastern states but also the rest of India therefore only time would tell what solution the Government would find for the people of seven sister states. The north-eastern states have seen various issues and have been often sidelined in mainstream politics. The basic understanding is to look at the issues faced by the people of the northeast and see the economic parity which requires a systematic change for more considerable developmental growth.

Madhav is a second year student at the Jindal School of International Affairs

Picture Source- The Hindu


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