Voter turnout during this year’s Lok Sabha elections has been phenomenal in Northeast India. For instance, the four Parliamentary constituencies of Assam posted the highest percentage (85%) among the 117 constituencies spread across 13 states and two Union territories that went to polls during the third phase on April 23.

This is not something new. Northeast India has always taken an active part in the democratic exercise. More than a process to elect their representatives, NE people see elections as a harbinger of change.

During the first three phases of the Parliamentary elections, when the region went to polls, voters were seen reaching their respective polling booths and queuing up as early as 5.30 in the morning.

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While the excitement was palpable, voters’ early turnout was also a result of the unique geographical location of the region. In Northeast India, the sun rises as early as 4 am and sets by 4 pm during winters. Compared to this, in the national capital, when the elections were underway, the sun didn’t rise until 6 am on most of the days. To sum it up, the day breaks earlier here with the sun rising and setting at least 60-90 minutes ahead of the western or southern states of the country.

Technically speaking, there is a longitudinal difference of about 30 degrees between a Northeast state, say, Arunachal Pradesh, and Gujarat in the western part of the country. This is a very solid ground for a demand for a separate time zone for the region.

Some of the tea gardens in Assam — an offshoot of the British colonial rulers– still follow a different time zone called the ‘bagaan’ (garden) time.

Some tea gardens in Assam still follow a different time zone.

The Britishers, it seems, knew how to get things sorted. Before Independence, India had two time zones — Bombay Time and Calcutta Time. In fact, some of the tea gardens in Assam — an offshoot of the British colonial rulers — still follow a different time zone called the ‘bagaan’ (garden) time.

This, however, did not last long as the Centre decided to go with a uniform Indian Standard Time (IST) when it was making policies for an independent India.

Hence, since Independence, the country has stuck to a standard time based on its mean longitude of 82.5 degrees E, which is five-and-a-half hours ahead of Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC, as it is abbreviated. The IST longitude divides India into two parts — the eastern part comprising the Northeast, etc, and western, comprising the rest of the country.

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To put things into perspective, France follows 12 different time zones, the US has 11 and Australia has eight. In comparison, India and China have only one.

Advancing the IST by just half-an-hour can result in annual savings of 2.7 billion units of electricity in all Indian states together, a research undertaken by the National Institute of Advanced Studies had earlier revealed.

The proposed new time zone would put the Northeastern states six hours ahead of the international standard, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), on a par with Bangladesh.

As a start, two states in Northeast have taken a positive step forward in this direction. To better use daylight and offer more scope to students and teachers for other activities, the Tripura government announced last month that it was keen on changing school timings from 11 am to 8 am.

“As the country follows the IST (Indian Standard Time), the people of the region has been wasting a lot of daylight,” Tripura education and law minister RatanlalNath had said.

This was after the neighbouring state of Mizoram, too, had decided to change the school timings.

In February, while speaking to EastMojo, L Ramdinliana Renthlei, the president of the Mizo Zirlai Pawl (MZP), Mizoram’s apex students’ body, had demanded a separate time zone for Northeast to save daylight.

He said that separate time zone for Northeast was a long-standing demand as it would increase daylight savings and efficiency. Since the sun rises and sets in the Northeast earlier by an hour than in other parts of the country, a lot of daylight hours were wasted as government offices and schools open only at 9:30 or 10 am and close at 4 or 5 pm.

L Ramdinliana Renthlei, president of MizoZirlai Pawl (MZP),  Mizoram’s apex students’ body, had demanded a separate time zone for Northeast to save daylight.

By allowing the Northeast states to advance their clocks by at least an hour would allow the people of the region to make use of added daylight hours and also increase their working hours in a day, Renthlei said. This, in turn, would give the much-needed boost to the economic activity in the region, he added.

Arunachal Pradesh chief minister PemaKhandu has been one of the strong votaries for a separate time zone for NE. “A separate time for the Northeast would save working day light-time and save electricity,” he was quoted as saying by a media organisation in 2017. “We get up as early as 4 am. Several daylight hours are wasted as government offices open only at 10 am and close at 4 pm,” he added.

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He was the second chief minister of an NE state after former Assam CM TarunGogoi to have made a demand for a separate time zone for the region.

“I am in favour of a local time for Assam, which will be at least an hour ahead of the IST. We need to explore this idea,” he had said.

Gogoi’s son, Congress leader and Kaliabor MP GauravGogoi later continued the fight by raising the issue in Parliament. In 2017, he introduced the Reorganisation of Time Zones Bill, 2017, which proposes establishing two time zones in India to help make administration more scientific, inclusive and progressive.

However, not everything has been smooth since then. In December last year, a panel that was created to examine the possibility of a separate time zone for the region recommended against the demand for ‘strategic reasons’.

A year earlier, the Gauhati High Court had dismissed a public interest litigation seeking a direction to the Centre to have a separate time zone for Northeast India.

The Union government, in a reply to the litigant, had told the court that a high-level committee formed by the Centre had already dealth with the issue and had recommended a single and uniform standard time throughout the country.

It’s time to put the record straight. It’s time to set the clock right. And the time starts now.

(Kunal Doley is the executive editor of EastMojo. Views expressed are his own)

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