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Time to Revisit standara time

Time to Revisit standara time
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The Government of India is reported to be taking up a long-pending issue of legalising the IST (Indian Standard Time) by launching a Rs 100 crore...

The Government of India is reported to be taking up a long-pending issue of legalising the IST (Indian Standard Time) by launching a Rs 100 crore project for a time-dissemination initiative. As of now, it is not mandatory for all service providers across the country to access the correct time from the country’s official timekeeper, the National Physical Laboratory (NPL).

All the gadgets used are primarily sourced from America's Network Time Protocol. The Legal Metrology Act, 2009, the Indian law for enforcing standards of weights and measures and regulating trade accordingly, does not currently recognise IST as the nation's legal time. The government is now setting about correcting the situation by streamlining, synchronising and legalising the IST.

While the idea is laudable, there is a school of thought that it is high time India had 2 or 3 time zones, to save energy. Each second matters a great deal in this digital age. For instance, if a customer booking a train ticket in ‘Tatkal’ is using network time and the Indian Railways is operating on IST sourced from NPL, he might see no tickets on logging in, courtesy lack of coordination. When it comes to security, including defense and cyber security, automatic teller machines (ATM) and online transactions, even seconds make a difference. And, in tracking cyber-attacks, non-synchronisation between two different standards of time may lead to completely wrong conclusions.

As part of the ambitious project, it is understood that the central government is strengthening the infrastructural facilities of the 5 existing Regional Reference Standards Laboratories located in Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Bhubaneswar, Faridabad and Guwahati. Besides, two more such facilities will be set up soon. An amount of Rs 20 crore has already been provided for it in the 2018-19 financial year.

Currently, only key organisations including the ISRO, the Indian Air Force, airports and several banks use the NPL-generated IST. Once IST gets legalised, users will compulsorily have to use only the NPL-generated time, which will have a significant impact on diverse areas including banking, telecom, monitoring of power grids, international trade, weather forecast, disaster management and automatic signaling in railways.

While this synchronisation is a welcome measure, it is somewhat disappointing to note that it revolves round the theme of ‘one nation, one time,’ without taking into account the ground realities. Different countries of the world have chosen varying numbers of time zones, keeping in mind the distance the countries span from east to west, and the interests of their economies as well as the people from the point of view of convenience and productivity.

The USA has 3 time zones – the western, the central and the eastern. Russia is a vast country spanning 11 time zones. India originally had 2 time zones, while under British rule. These were Bombay Time and Kolkata Time. But after independence, they opted for one time. The insistence on observing one Indian Standard Time (IST) ignores its social and economic impact on many parts of the country in the extreme western and southern regions – especially the latter.

There are several advantages of having more time zones in a country, like saving energy, providing additional daylight hours in the evening, increasing productivity, and increasing tourism – as, on account or number of the increased daylight hours, tourists could stay out for longer periods and spend more. According to some reports such as move would also reduce road accidents and crimes. On the flip side, it is a complex system to follow.

Daylight Saving can cause sleep deprivation negatively impacting on the health of people. But in western countries they do keep changing the time to save daylight therefore there is no reason why people in India cannot adjust to the arrangement as people there do.

In the North East, by the time government offices or educational institutions open, many daylight hours are already lost. In the winters, the problem gets even more accentuated. The ecological costs are enormous as much more electricity is consumed. Legislators, activists, industrialists and ordinary citizens from the North East have often complained about the effect of IST on their lives.

Creation of a time zone signals the victory of time over space it entails a denial separation of time from space time difference between the westernmost part of India and the easternmost point is approximately two hours. A few years ago, then Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi, frustrated by the Centre unilateral methods, decided that the state would follow a ‘Chai Bagaan’ time – an informal practice followed in tea gardens in Assam which is an hour ahead of IST. Provisions in labour laws such as the Plantations Labour Act, 1951 allow the Central and the State governments to define and set the local time for a particular industrial area. It was to them that Gogoi was referring.

Dr D P Sen Gupta (formerly a Professor at the Indian Institute of Science and presently a visiting professor of the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bangalore) states in a forthcoming paper in ‘Current Science,’ that India “would save 2.7 billion units of electricity every year by shifting the IST meridian eastward.”

According to Dr Sen Gupta, “this would amount to a critical saving in energy for a country where 350 million people out of the total 120 million population still have no access to electricity and use kerosene lamps at night.” He and his colleagues feel strongly that two time zones would cause ‘unimaginable chaos’ in India, where many time-bound operations, such as railway lines, operate on the basis of manual controls.

A study by a High Level Committee study, commissioned by the Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India, recognised the difficulties faced by a Eastern India on account of the single time zone system, but nonetheless retained it. In 2001, the Ministry of Science and Technology, Government of India (GoI) set up a committee to study the need for more than one time zone in India. Kapil Sibal, the Minister for Science and Technology, presented the report of the Committee to the Parliament in 2004. The Committee did not recommend any change from the single time zone. As Sibal explained, “the prime meridian was chosen with reference to a central station, and that the expanse of the Indian State was not large.”

In June 2017, the Department of Science and Technology (DST in GoI) indicated that they were once again studying feasibility of two time-zones for India. A proposal for both creating an additional Eastern India Time Zone and a daylight saving (DST) period starting 14 April (Ambedkar Jayanti) and ending on 2 October (Gandhi Jayanti) was submitted to DST for consideration.

Many countries around the world practise a DST wherein the time in the summers is advanced (or the clocks put forward) and retracted during the winters. Therefore, people have longer summers and also avoid the inconvenience of late sunrises and early sunsets during the winters. 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, of course, some benefits.

An alternative 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. This proposal of advancing IST by half-an-hour avoids the problems apprehended in the other two proposals (of time zones and DST) while enhancing energy saving during the evenings which the utilities call the ‘peak time.’ 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 can be taken up along with legalisation of IST.

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