India's Time Zone Problem

Mar 29, 2019 10:48 · 776 words · 4 minute read India Standard Time Time Zone

Let’s admit it - India’s current way of handling Time Zones is a mess.

In fact, as per the Legal Metrology Act of 2009, which provides for enforcement of standards of weights and measures and regulates trade based on the same, India itself doesn’t recognize its own India Standard Time (IST) as the legal time of the country. This means that the time we see in all our phones and computers is actually obtained from Network Time Protocol designed by University of Delaware in the United States. Once India legalizes IST as the official time of the country, it will be mandatory for all service providers to obtain time from the National Physical Laboratory (NPL) in New Delhi - which is India’s Official Time Keeper for it has two types of precise atomic clocks — five Caesium clocks and one Active Hydrogen Maser Clock from Russia.

Time zones are based on the fact that the Earth moves 15 degrees in longitude - each hour, which we know because a day consists of 24 hours and since the Earth is round it is only natural to divide each turn/rotation - which is 360 degrees by 24 Hours to get the exact degree measurement for each hour.

Now the problem is - India is situated between 68°07’ to 97°25’ east longitude. It is almost a 30 degrees change in longitude from its western extremity to its eastern extremity - which accounts to almost 2 hours difference in mean solar time or three different time zone lines that can be drawn - one at the western end(Gujarat), one central - 15 degrees east to the western end, and finally - one at the eastern end(Arunachal Pradesh) - 15 degrees east to the central. But India has opted for a single time zone - India Standard Time (IST) which is 05:30 hours ahead of Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) and lies at 82.5’ E (Mirzapur, Uttar Pradesh) - which is roughly in the middle of both. While this is a nice approach, it does create several problems which are much more severe than not having any Automatic Watch which has New Delhi in its world complication.

In the Northeast, the sun rises as early as four in the morning - but the government and educational institutions open at the same time as rest of India. That’s a lot of daylight hours lost! But that’s not all - In winters, the sun sets by four in the evening. That means that the people living in the Northeast regions of India are not able to make the most out of the Sunlight and have to start using electricity to power up their lamps before the rest of the country which further leads to an increase in electricity consumption.

But it’s not just Northeast India that has been affected by the same. Western India experiences the opposite - later Sunsets. As the sky grows darker, the human brain releases Melatonin, a hormone that facilitates sleep - but as the working hours for major governmental and educational institutions is still the same - people sleep less in locations exposed to later sunsets.

Several solutions to the same have been proposed by different institutions. While they all have their con(s), they all seem to be better than our current system:

  • Advancing India Standard Time (IST) by half an hour to UTC +6
  • Having three time zones - Western, Central & Eastern Time Zone - representing UTC +5, +6, and +7 respectively.
  • Having two different time zones. One current - UTC +5:30, and one separate time zone for North East India.

While having multiple time zones can be problematic during the early months/years of it’s implementation - and could cause real chaos when it comes to managing Railway & Flight Timings, it’s certainly beneficial in the long run - especially when lives of more than a billion people depend on it. The government has had reasons for not opting for multiple time zones - especially after a long history of separatist movements in the Northeast, but by not doing so they are distancing northeast even further by not giving them - not but they want, but what they need and deserve - a normal & productive routine like the rest of the country. Recent research conducted by the scientists at National Institute of Advanced Studies (NIAS), Bangalore suggests that even advancing the IST by as much as half an hour to UTC +6 can help save up-to 2.7 Billion Units of Electricity annually and although it won’t solve the problem completely but it will still bring the Northeast a bit closer to the rest of the country.