Assam, often termed as the “land of laggards” or “lahe lahe” (slowly, slowly), may now move ahead of the rest of India, at least by a couple of hours. In his statement on the Assam-Meghalaya pact in the assembly on March 30, chief minister Himanta Biswa Sarma stressed on the need for a separate time zone for his state.

“We are in need of a separate time zone. By the time we are awake and set to work, the sun is over our heads. Today we need a time zone at least a couple of hours ahead and only then can we not only save on our electricity consumption but also improve our health and management. If you see today when we work, we are working virtually at midnight. In an advanced time zone, we will be working and sleeping as per our biological clock. We can have united tourism, a united time zone, and a united taxation policy. The border disputes and issues are an impediment as there is distrust among people,” said the Assam CM.

Himanta Biswa Sarma in Assam assembly. Pic/News18

It was the British who envisaged a separate time zone in the tea gardens of Assam centuries ago. When the rest of the country and the state set out on their daily engagement, the lush green tea gardens of Assam would have completed one hour of eventful work, thanks to the foresightedness of the British and the continuance of the colonial practice in the estates, say observers. “Bagan time” or “local time” followed in the tea gardens is primarily a time zone set on the sunrise.

In 2014, as a New Year resolution, the then chief minister of the state, Tarun Gogoi, had proposed a local time zone that would be at least 60 minutes ahead of the Indian Standard time (IST) and help the state save energy by better utilisation of sunlight. Government offices in Assam function from 9.30am to 5pm. Gogoi had claimed, during British rule, India was divided into three time zones – Bombay, Calcutta and Bagan.

IST is five and a half hours ahead of the Greenwich Mean Time. According to experts, there is a two-hour difference between when the sun rises in India’s east and when it does in the west. It needs mention that despite several earlier efforts, the demand for a separate time zone has never materialised.

In 2017, Arunachal Pradesh chief minister Pema Khandu demanded a separate time zone for northeastern states, maintaining that several work hours are wasted as offices open late and the sun rises early.

A panel, formed to examine having a separate time zone for the northeastern states, recommended against it for “strategic reasons”. In a written response to a question on the demand, then union science and technology minister Harsh Vardhan said such requests have been made on the ground that sunrise and sunset timings in these parts are much earlier than official working hours.

“National Physical Laboratory (NPL) published certain reports in scientific journals on this issue, referring to saving of electricity,” Vardhan said. The matter was examined by a high-level committee (HLC) comprising the secretary of the department of science and technology, and the chief secretary of Tripura.

According to an estimate, since Independence, the Northeast has suffered a productivity loss of 25 years and 10 months because of India maintaining a single time zone. In 100 years, the region will be 54 years behind in productivity, some experts suggest.

While countries like Russia, the United States, and Canada have multiple time zones, India’s neighbour Bangladesh too has advanced its time by 90 minutes. France has 12 time zones, even as the US has 11 and Australia has eight.

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