Sinlung /
29 January 2014

Assam Wants A New Time Zone

Assam's chief minister argues that time change will save energy and synchronise the eastern state with the rest of the country.
Chief Minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi
The chief minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi. Photograph: Biju Boro/AFP
Every day residents of Assam, a state in north-east India, see the sun rise and set earlier than their compatriots because, in a country that stretches 3,000km from east to west, the clocks are all set at the same time. To correct this injustice Tarun Gogoi, the chief minister of Assam, is demanding the creation of a new time zone. "We want offices to start one hour ahead, so that we increase our overall productivity and save on energy," he said.

Technically speaking, it would make sense to create a second time zone. There are almost 28 degrees of longitude between the country's eastern and western extremities, whereas on average a time zone corresponds to 15 degrees. In 2006 India's planning commission recommended two time zones, explaining that it would provide for substantial energy savings. At peak hours electricity demand currently exceeds supply by 17%.

But on two occasions, in 2002 and 2006, the federal government rejected proposals along these lines, for fear of chaos at the time border and rail accidents. The topic is politically sensitive in a country prone to separatist tension. Delhi is afraid a second time zone may distance north-eastern states. Indeed, it was on the grounds of national unity that India decided, shortly after independence, to abolish Mumbai and Kolkata time.

Two researchers at the National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bangalore, Dilip Ahuja and Debi Prasad Sengupta, advocate putting clocks back by half an hour all over India to satisfy the demands of north-eastern states and avoid chaos. In a study carried out in 2012 they calculated that with this arrangement India would save from 0.2% to 0.7% in energy, depending on the state.

Daylight has other virtues too. Drawing on research done in Britain suggesting that crimes and accidents happen more at night, the two scientists emphasised the advantages of stopping work an hour earlier.

But as the regional daily Assam Tribune pointed out this month, "a gain of half an hour for the eastern region may lead to loss of equal numbers of hours in the central and western regions".
India's Ministry of New and Renewable Energy says it will examine Gogoi's ideas. But with only four months before a general election, it seems unlikely the government will risk upsetting voters giving Assam more sunlight.

This article appeared in Guardian Weekly, which incorporates material from Le Monde

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