North by Northeast

North by Northeast
The Imphal Free Press
Jan 25 2010

Does the Northeast deserve a separate time zone? This is an old question but one which has gained momentum once again in the wake of a coordinated campaign in Guwahati, the veritable capital of the Northeast, the prime mover of which is Jahnu Barua, the well known film maker from Assam. The contention is, the current uniform time used in India makes it impossible for optimal use of daylight hours in the Northeast. Longitudinally India spans across almost 30 degrees and this translate into a time difference of nearly two hours between the westernmost and easternmost points of the country. The Indian Standard Time, IST, meridian is calculated on the basis of the 82.5 degree longitude which passes by Allahabad, the city considered to be somewhat the lateral midpoint of the country. This being the case, the actual time of the Northeast would be ahead of the IST by about an hour, while the actual time of the westernmost points of India would be behind the IST by and equal duration. The arguments is, it is always much more beneficial for a place to be behind the time line than to be ahead of it, and from this logic the Northeast is at the receiving end.

Because there is a uniform time in India, the Northeast would have more daylight hours before official work time but much less daylight hour after official work hours. The implication is, the morning daylight hours normally go wasted in unproductive activities while the short after office hours mean less time for recreational activities as well as for the family to be together. The situation would be reversed in the case of places west of the IST, and this, the current campaigners argue, unfairly places the northeast in the equation. Another point to note is that unproductive use of daylight hours always results in more electric power consumption. In many countries, not just multiple time zones but also the notion of daylight saving time, DST, is in vogue precisely for these ends. DST involves advancing the clock along with the seasonal cycle so that it is not the clock but daylight which is taken as the constant. In other words, summer time and winter time would be differently adjusted on the clock so that sunrise and sunset correspond with clock indications. It cannot thereby be said the time of sunrise of sunset vary according to seasons.

The concern about optimally using daylight hours apparently and understandably began in the West. Benjamin Franklin in 1784, in an article he wrote for a journal in Paris, had powerfully argued the need to better management of daylight, coining the famous phrase “save daylight, save candlelight”. What is to be taken note of here is that most of the Western countries being located high up in the northern hemisphere, not only would have more longitudes per given area cutting through them, but also the seasonal fluctuation in the length of day and night would be much more pronounced. A country like Norway, which experiences virtually six months daylight and six months darkness, would be under much greater pressure to make optimal use of daylight. India not only has just one time but also has not adopted the DST system. This is in a way understandable for after all India is an equatorial country. The seasonal fluctuation in length of day and night is far from dramatic. Again, although large, it spans only 30 degrees longitudinally.

Nonetheless, perhaps India should have two time zones, an eastern time and a western time. This would even out daylight utilisation much more equitably. But let us not give it a political twist and call it Northeast time, as if it is only the Northeast which has been at the receiving end of the IST. True, after office daylight hours in the Northeast are shorter and this certainly would have a telling effect on behavioural pattern as well power consumption in the region, but it is no great blessing for before office daylight hours to be short either as in the western extremes of the IST meridian. In Delhi winter seasons for instance, wake up at dawn and go for a walk and probably you would encounter shivering school children in uniform standing at the bus stands to catch their school buses. In Mumbai, office goers in winter practically have to wake up before sunrise to catch the local train to be in time for 9 am office. Nobody who has witnessed such sights would vouch short daylight hours in the morning is better than short daylight hours in the evenings. Both have their ugly sides.

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