A question of time zones

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Will Assam’s decision to introduce a separate time zone be the beginning of a nexus of change? 

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There are two current events taking place with regards to time zones: one in India and the other in Indonesia. The two ideas are contradictory to each other: whilst the state of Assam in India is moving towards creating a separate time zone (currently all the country has a single zone), Indonesia wants to fuse its three time zones into one.

Every place on earth has its time naturally created by the longitude and latitude of a place. There are twenty-four natural time zones of the world. The 360 degrees equatorial circle divided by twenty-four (hours) gives fifteen degree segments. The Sun moves every fifteen degrees in one hour. Half-an-hour time zones are used in some places. In Australia, Central Australian time is half-an-hour behind Eastern Australian Time, but one-and-half hour ahead of West Australian Time.

The Equator (an imaginary line) divides the earth’s globe into the northern and southern hemispheres. Its estimated length is 40,075 kms (about 24,900 miles) long. The earth is not a perfect globe. It is greater in size at the equator (latitude 0 degrees) than at the poles by about 43 kms. The polar areas are flatter.

Along the Equator, days and nights are almost equal throughout the year. The Sun passes perpendicularly over the Equator twice a year. At those times, the Sun’s rays become perpendicular to the surface of the earth. These twice-a-year events are called the Equinoxes (meaning equal days and nights).

That is why one does not see any great difference between summer and winter along the Equator, except where there are high mountains such as the Himalayas. There are mountain peaks in Africa and South America close to the Equator as well. Equatorial or tropical lowlands have a rainforest climate whilst high mountains have snowfall such as in Bhutan, Nepal and the neighbouring parts of India like Assam.

The Chief Minister of Assam, Tarun Gogoi, recently dropped a bombshell by stating that Assam will unilaterally have its own time zone and thus break away from Indian Standard Time, which is actually a relic from the days of the Raj.

The state of Assam in North-East India is distant from New Delhi in more respects than one. Assam along with several other states in the North-East sector, lies linked to the rest of the country by a narrow corridor known as the Naxalbari sector. This gives the map of India a disjointed appearance. It is as if the North-East sector is separate from the rest of the country.   The Naxalbari corridor became famous because of the Naxalite insurgency group which troubled the area for several decades.

In the days of the Raj, when the British decided that the entire country should have only one time zone, they produced an unnatural situation which the people of different areas had to live with.

The inhabitants in the eastern part of the country (including Kolkata in West Bengal) had to awaken very early in the morning and as well they had to go to sleep early at night when their energies were still quite active. The state of West Bengal by itself has over 91 million inhabitants. It is not subjected to the proposed unilateral time zone change proposed by Assam, although it suffers the same natural disadvantages, as does Assam.

The subcontinent has several time zones: Bangladesh is half an hour less than Indian Standard Time whilst Nepal’s time is one quarter of an hour less than that; Bhutan’s time is the same as that of Bangladesh. There is no Daylight Saving Time currently in use anywhere in the subcontinent.

Numerous countries have time zones across their widths, reflecting the fact that the Sun rises at different times in their east and west. The United States is a very good example: the Sun rises and sets at different times in the states of New York and California.  Australia has several time zones: the Eastern, Central and Western zones with additions for daylight saving. There are besides, time zones for island territories such as Christmas Island, Norfolk Island and Lord Howe Island.

India is historically and geographically linked to the countries of Southeast Asia. However, using the Indian Standard Time means that Assam and the Northeast sector has been using a time which is out of kilter with adjoining Burma. In 1991 India awakened to its links with the countries to its east and southeast. A Look East Policy was enunciated by Prime Minister PV Narasimha Rao and pursued by successive Prime Ministers, but no one seemed to have awoken to the importance of the time zone factor.

Indonesia stretches between 95 and 141 degrees longitude. It makes an excellent case for time zones which it has currently in place. Abolishing those zones would severely inconvenience people living in those islands. Fusing those zones into one and adapting Singapore’s time zone for all of Indonesia might be palatable to commerce and particularly the Singapore stock exchange, than it is going to be for the inhabitants of those places.