The number of time zones a country must have is not merely a question of how many longitudes its expanse covers. It is as much a political matter as it is of industry and commerce. In other words,a question of proportion: the optimum balance between productivity (and growth) and ease of governance. So when filmmaker Jahnu Barua calls for a separate time zone for Northeast India voicing a demand raised periodically since the mid-90s does he have a case?
From the eastern borders where the sun first rises on Indian soil to the Rann of Kutch where it last sets,is a distance of about 2000 km and 28 longitudes,and a time difference of about 2 hours. Everyday domestic activities get delayed in the Northeast,as also industrial and commercial ones though the tea garden time does offer some respite. By the time one gets to work,several hours of daylight are already lost,while offices and institutions remain open several hours after sunset,wasting energy. For a country that doesnt practise DST (Daylight Saving Time),the loss is voluminous; and the Northeast,according to Barua (a former ISRO scientist),has lost almost 26 years of productivity since independence by following IST. The 2004 report of the ministry of science and technology did not recommend change,opining that the gains did not match the practical problems and confusion. But the debate was reopened in 2007,with regard to power conservation in the Northeast.
Big states like the US or Canada are synonymous with multi-time zones. While Russia,long proud of its 11 Babel-lite time zones,has actually been considering a reduction given problems of governance and commerce. Gigantic Chinas single time zone may be a conspicuous political choice,but theres little reason why two zones cannot work for India,whereby the Northeast,as well as the eastern states,will use a meridian east of 82.5° E. As for confusion,we will have to
invest in enlightening citizens,institutions and other nations.
Historically,British India adopted a central meridian only on January 1,1906,but Kolkata and Mumbai retained their time zones for a while longer even after 1947. Modern India,too,has been no stranger to temporal multiplicity.