01 Jul 2015 18:13 IST

Who moved my time?

After much deliberation, India is poised to shift IST ahead by half an hour to catch more daylight saving time

I challenge you to unravel this oxymoron: same time, but earlier. Doesn’t make sense, does it?

But it does. You can, for instance, wake up tomorrow exactly at the same time as you did today — let’s say 6 a.m. — and find the time is 6.30 a. m. Nothing has changed, but the day has started half an hour earlier!

Confused?

Well, here is how it is possible. The day can start earlier if the Indian Standard Time, which is at present 5.30 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time, becomes six hours ahead instead.

It is a policy decision and all it takes is just on stroke of the Prime Minister’s pen.

To be amply clear: when it was midnight at Greenwich today, it was 5.30 a.m. in India. Come tomorrow, midnight in Greenwich, India 6 a.m. Period.

But why on the earth would anyone want to do that?

There is a very, very good reason and before I tell you about that I first want to introduce you to a gentleman named Toine van Megen.

The Dutchman’s role

Toine (pronounced ‘Twon’) is a Dutchman, but really only by birth. He has lived in India since the mid-1970s. He is married to an Indian lady, from Madurai. He worked for Suzlon for a few years, but today he lives in Auroville, the universal township near Puducherry (Pondicherry), along with several hundred other foreigners, all leading a life dedicated to ‘material and spiritual research’.

In 2005, Toine bumped into a very senior Indian cabinet minister in an elevator in Hong Kong, and took the two-minute opportunity to tell the Minister about the economic advantages of ‘moving time’ a bit. It must be said to the minister’s credit that he immediately caught the point. Perhaps Toine’s fluency in Tamil helped a bit — not that the Minister could not speak English, but a foreigner who speaks accent-less Tamil catches attention, right?

Ever since, the Government of India has been working on the idea — the Government’s wheels grind slow — and whether an idea as big as shift the IST deserves a decade of deliberation or not is something I’d like to debate. Fast forward to the present, the Bureau of Energy Efficiency is today carrying the proposal forward and, anytime now, a properly researched, scientifically validated report on shifting the IST ahead by half an hour could be considered by the Cabinet. The National Institute of Advanced Studies in Bangalore, and DP Sengupta, a professor here, have slogged over the issue. In the meantime, Toine van Megen, a self-confessed Indophile, lobbied quietly, but assidously for the move.

The rationale

I’m aware that I still haven’t quite come to the point. So bear with me. What is the big idea behind moving the IST? Perhaps, you could take a break in reading this at this point, and take a guess. But here is the answer, anyway.

Moving the IST forward will enable India to catch more daylight. In other words, most of the working hours will be in daylight.

When offices close at the ‘usual’ time of (say) 5 pm, it will still be bright and sunny. The NIAS study says that with the one-time time shift, some 16 per cent of peak time demand could be reduced and a good 3 billion units of electricity could be saved annually. Well, 3 billion units is not a huge number for a country that consumed 1,110 units of electricity in 2014 — but still, the saving, worth about ₹1,800 crore, comes at zero cost. Money for jam.

Besides, there are some other, equally important by-products. Integration of the North and East is one. Today, it is mid-day in Mizoram or Nagaland when the clock shows only 10 am, and it is pretty dark when the people there return to their homes after work. With the proposed time shift, they could be brought more into the daylight. After all, the North Easterners too deserve their day in the sun.

For sure, it would work the opposite way for the western States like Gujarat and Punjab, but a half-hour shift has been found to be okay. A one-hour shift would be bad for them. They would be going to work, and getting back home, very early. Half-hour is hence acceptable.

Multiple time zones

NIAS experts also worked on whether two time zones would work in India — like in the US. But ‘two-timing’ with respect to India has a lot of problems. It requires the citizens to fully understand the time zone concept when they move from one time zone to another, and act with the time zone effect in mind — or else, confusion will reign.

Better would be a one-time, zero cost shift in IST, ahead by half-an-hour. Whether the Cabinet will approve this or not is a moot point, but it would be interesting to have debates in colleges on the pros and cons of such a time shift. It may not be all that good for students. If you are not alert enough, you could be brushing your teeth when you should ideally be kick-starting your motorcycle.

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