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[Burning Issue] Should India have Two Time Zones?

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Background

  • The time difference between the westernmost part of India and the easternmost point is approximately two hours, the effect of which is that the sun rises and sets much earlier than it does in the rest of the country.
  • Most Indians are not particularly worried about Indian Standard Time (IST), except for those who live in the Northeast where the sun rises around 4 a.m. in summer and gets dark well before 4 p.m. in winter.

TIME IS MAINTAINED BY THIS METHOD

  • If lines of longitude are drawn precisely a degree apart, they will divide the Earth into 360 zones/ imaginary lines called longitudes or meridians running vertically between the poles.
  • Because the Earth spins 360° in 24 hours, a longitudinal distance of 15° represents a time separation of 1 hour, and 1° represents 4 minutes.

NOTES

  • The geographic “zero line” runs through Greenwich, London. 
    It identifies GMT, now known as Universal Coordinated Time (UTC), which is maintained by the Bureau of Weights and Measures (BIPM) in France.
  • Indian Standard Time, maintained by CSIR-NPL, is based on a line of longitude that runs through Mirzapur in UP (Centre for measuring time by the Indian government).
  • At 82°33’E, the line is 82.5° east of Greenwich, or 5.5 hours (5 hours 30 minutes) ahead of UCT. While India follows one IST, the United States follows several time zones across its breadth.

Context: A new report advocating 2 time zones in India

  • A proposal for two time zones has come from India’s national timekeeper itself.
  • Scientists at the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research’s National Physical Laboratory (CSIR-NPL) have now argued that IST should be done away with at the Chicken’s Neck.
  • There is a request to change the temporal modalities of the Indian nation-state from its official time-keeper.

Why there is a necessity of two time zones:

  • Over the years, various citizens and political leaders have debated whether India should have two separate time zones.
  • The demand is based on the huge difference in daylight times between the country’s longitudinal extremes, and the costs associated with following the same time zone.
  • Those arguing against the idea, on the other hand, cite impracticability particularly the risk of railway accidents, given the need to reset times at every crossing from one time zone into another.
  • Legislators, activists, industrialists and ordinary citizens from the Northeast have often complained about the effect of IST on their lives, and pursued the issue of having a separate time zone with the Central government, without much success.
  • In the Northeast, the sun rises as early as four in the morning and in winter it sets by four in the evening. By the time government offices or educational institutions open, many daylight hours are already lost.
  • In winter this problem gets even more accentuated and the ecological costs are a disaster with much more electricity having to be consumed.

 THE ISSUE OF DAYLIGHT

  • There is also the practice in several countries, of “Daylight Saving Time” (DST), wherein the time in summer is advanced (or the clocks put forward) by one hour and retracted during winter.
  • This enables people to enjoy sunlight longer in summer and avoid the inconveniences of late sunrises and early sunsets during winter.
  • The time difference between the westernmost part of India and the easternmost point is approximately two hours, the effect of which is that the sun rises and sets much earlier than it does in the rest of the country.
  • Most Indians are not particularly worried about Indian Standard Time (IST), except for those who live in the Northeast where the sun rises around 4 a.m. in summer and gets dark well before 4 p.m. in winter.

Problems of DST:

  • If we were to introduce DST in India, the inconvenience of time adjustment during summer and winter months would involve the whole country, happening twice a year, with marginal benefits.
  • The possibilities of rail accidents would still be high. Even in the U.S. and Canada, road accidents increase discernibly in the days immediately following the change.
  • Daylight saving time, this small time shift can significantly raise the risk of health-related issues.
  • A 2016 study found that the overall rate for stroke was 8% higher in the two days after daylight saving time. Cancer victims were 25% more likely to have a stroke during that time, and people older than 65 were 20% more likely to have a stroke.

Possible Impact of change in time zones:

  • Northeast India would move an hour ahead, increasing the region’s productive, daylight hours and the country’s potential energy savings could amount to a whopping 20 million kWh a year.
  • Offices could open sooner after sunrise, and perhaps workers could even savour the last dregs of dusk as they trudge towards home or their desired form of recreation.
  • Biomedical research has consistently pointed to the physical and psychological benefits of aligning circadian (sleep) rhythms to the sun’s rising and setting.

Problems of different time zones in India:

India has a huge population; if the country were divided into two time zones, there would be chaos at the border between the two zones. It would mean resetting clocks with each crossing of the time zone.

There is scope for more dangerous kinds of confusion.

  • Railway signals are not fully automated and many routes have single tracks.
  • Trains may meet with major accidents owing to human errors. Just one such accident would wipe out any benefits resulting from different time zones in the country.

Partitioning the already divided country further into time zones may also have undesirable political consequences. Moreover, our research shows that energy saving from creating two time zones is not particularly large.

While there is merit in the argument, the potentially adverse consequences of introducing a new time zone within the country are many.

For Instance, Not forgetting the fact that a country like Russia has as many as nine time zones across the contiguous territory, having to cope with the zones and to be forced to reset the watch each time you need to cross a domestic line could be complicated.

With a time difference of one hour in the mornings and in the evenings, there would be nearly 25% less overlap between office timings in the two zones. This could be important for banks, offices, industries and multinational companies which need to be constantly interconnected.

This will be further detrimental to productivity and to the interests of the eastern region.

There is already a sense of alienation between the relatively prosperous and industrialised western zone and the less developed eastern zone. The people in the Northeast sense a distance from the mainland and a separateness in clock time may accentuate it.

Having a separate time zone for the eastern region will provide no energy or other benefits to the rest of the country.

Moreover, India will continue to be in off-set time zones, five and a half hours in the west and six and a half in the eastern region ahead of.

Hurdles in implementation:

  • A long-standing argument against doing away with IST has been it would confuse the railway infrastructure.
  • In a country with so many diversities to amalgamate into a proverbial unity, asking the people of the Northeast to wake up an hour earlier might lead to yet another point of difference.

Alternative to the present proposal:

  • One proposal is to introduce neither time zones nor DST but to advance IST by half an hour to being six hours ahead of GMT, once and permanently.
  • Such a suggestion has been made before, but until now no one has computed the energy savings that would accrue as a result using a correct model and dependable data.
  • This proposal of advancing IST by half an hour avoids the problems apprehended in the other two proposals (of time zones and DST) but provides maximum energy saving during evening hours when the utilities fail to supply continuous power

Conclusion:

  • It is now time to initiate a process of consultation to consider all sides of the question afresh.
  • What might be seriously examined is a proposal of some researchers, including those from the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bangalore and Scientists at the Council of Scientific & Industrial Research’s National Physical Laboratory (CSIR-NPL), to set the IST forward by half an hour so that it is six hours ahead of Universal Coordinated Time.
  • This will mean advancing the point of reckoning at 82.5 degree East to 90 degrees East, which will fall at a longitude along the West Bengal-Assam border.
  • That should go some way in meeting Assam’s demand, and help avoid potential grievances from northwestern India about corresponding inconveniences that an advancing by one full hour could entail for it in terms of late sunrise time.

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