BackpackingSeries Sunrise in North East india Sikkim

Following the Sun in North East India

In Assam, ‘Bagan time’ is a popular norm. Will extending this as a separate time zone for North East India help local lifestyle?

It was already twilight at 04:00 pm on a December afternoon when I got off a bus at Roing, Arunachal Pradesh. Thats when I realized that there is nothing standard about the Indian Standard Time (IST). Everyday life simply followed the sun.

Here’s a comparison for perspective. Tinsukia, on Assam’s eastern tip, currently shares a time zone with the nation’s capital New Delhi that is roughly 2300 Km away. Whereas Bangkok in Thailand, which is almost the same distance heading south from Tinsukia, is 1.5 hours ahead of IST. So when Bangkok is waking up at 05:30 am, New Delhi is in a dreamland at 04:00 am and Manipur is hitting the snooze button. Look at the earliest and latest times for sunrise and sunsets in four state capitals of India and notice how early (04:24 am) Imphal greets the sun.

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The impact of using a common time zone seems different though in cities and remote areas. Towns or villages that are difficult to access also sometimes suffer from security risks. Remember, a handful of places in North East India continue to be affected by insurgencies. I have seen people literally run home after dark – i.e. after their office duties end by 05:00 pm. For the same reason, many taxi drivers avoid certain routes after dark. By 07:00 pm most of the shops shut down and by 09:00 pm, its like midnight. On the other hand, in major northeastern cities like Agartala, Aizawl, Guwahati or Shillong, with a relatively vibrant night life, the story is different. While life in cities may not be dictated by the sun, the pace of work is likely to slow down once daylight turns to twilight. So even though the security threat may be relatively absent in cities, the loss of productivity seems to be the bigger dent.

Now to the second part of the question. Indeed, it is theoretically feasible to have two or multiple time zones. Ideally, global time zones should follow the natural local time based on longitudes. So the question remains: is India ready for a transition to multiple time zones? Perhaps, not at the moment.

The success of such a move is dependent on a synchronous adoption of the new system by railways, airlines, communication service providers and other time-sensitive businesses. India still relies on manual switching of railway tracks and a separate time zone could lead to confusion between train operators and likely to cause mishaps. Hence, alternatives need to be explored until infrastructure and technology readiness guarantees a smooth transition to sport multiple time zones. Here’s one idea: Harmonize time zones with the neighbours.

Consider the graphic below. Bangladesh and Bhutan are IST+30 minutes. Myanmar is IST+60 minutes. Nepal is IST+15 minutes. China is IST+150 minutes. North East India is sandwiched between these countries and their different time zones to the north, east, west and to the south. Surreal. So much for times zones defined by political boundaries.

As far as development of North East India is concerned, Bangladesh and Bhutan (both IST+30 minutes) are emerging as key partners. India is working with Bangladesh to open up international transit to North East India. It would not only plummet the distance between Kolkata and Agartala but also allow North East Indian states access to ports. Besides, Mr Modi’s proposal for India and Bhutan to jointly develop a tourism circuit combining India’s north-eastern states and Bhutan is likely to be another key initiative.

A development synergy such as this needs to be strengthened. DP Sengupta and Dilip R Ahuja, researchers from the National Institute of Advanced Studies, have long proposed advancing the IST by 30 minutes to make IST as UTC+0600 Hrs. Though their paper primarily focused on the energy saving aspects of time change, it also highlighted tangible benefits to North East India.

– Local Benefit: Daylight hours in northeast India increase by an hour (30 minutes in the morning and 30 minutes in the evening). So instead of an Imphal sunrise at 04:24 am, it would be at 04:54 am. See modified chart (with IST = UTC+0600 Hrs) below. As you can notice, other parts of India have no significant difference in daylight.

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– Strategic Benefit: It should be a positive for North East India to align with its key growth partners of Bhutan and Bangladesh. The region as a whole becomes a single time zone for development and trade-related activities. Should Nepal and Sri Lanka align themselves in the future, the entire region could enjoy a common “South Asian” time zone.

Other than these, IST itself will become compliant with 95% of the world by not following a 30 minute offset. Bagan time difference will be reduced by 30 minutes. But, the biggest benefit of moving India to UTC+0600 Hrs will be to raise people’s awareness about time zone changes and make everyone prepared for the possibility of multiple time zones in the future.

Original Post

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