Lost in time

Scientists have argued for bifurcating India’s time zones. But will the trains, then, run on time?

Right before the end of the world in The Hitchhiker’s Guide To the Galaxy, the last human is reminded of a simple truth by an exiled extra-terrestrial: “Time is an illusion,” says Ford Prefect, “and lunchtime doubly so”. But like language and its meanings, time is an illusion with consequences. While there is no impending apocalypse, there is a request to change the temporal modalities of the Indian nation-state from its official time-keeper.

Indian Standard Time (IST) disregards longitudinal reality — from east to west, there is “actually” a two-hour difference — which results in a significant loss of daylight hours in the eastern parts of the country. 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. 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.

A refreshing, if antediluvian, idea accompanies the notion of two time zones. Biomedical research has consistently pointed to the physical and psychological benefits of aligning circadian (sleep) rhythms to the sun’s rising and setting. After all, evolution is yet to catch up with the neon glow that makes night shifts possible. Unfortunately, like with many good ideas, political and administrative realities may queer the pitch. First, a long-standing argument against doing away with IST has been it would confuse the railway infrastructure. Second, 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.

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