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The price India pays for a single time zone

Authors: Satyam Agarwalla & Kabir Khanna
Published on: October 5, 2022

India’s single time zone costs it roughly ₹29,000 crores each year! Geographically, India is the second-largest country that does not have multiple time zones. Australia, the 6th largest country, has 3 main time zones. Russia, the largest country, has 11. France, which is not even among the largest countries, has 12 time zones. Back in India, the 7th largest country has only one timezone, costing it $4.2 billion annually, nearly 0.2% of the GDP.

A longitudinal movement of 15 degrees translates to a change of one hour since the earth spins 360 degrees every 24 hours. India stretches over a 30-degree longitudinal gap from the eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh to the western state of Gujarat. India, however, only has one time zone, which is determined by mean longitude and passes through Mirzapur in the Uttar Pradesh state at an angle of 82.5 degrees east of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). This results in almost a two-hour difference in the sunrise from east to west. Typically, countries would take measures like daylight saving time (DST) and multiple time zones to adapt the hours of human activity to make the best use of daylight, but India has not done so.

The question here arises here is why does India need two time zones? There are many reasons to substantiate.

The biological clock that regulates human productivity and efficiency is synced with the daily cycles of sunlight and darkness, with daylight hours being the most conducive to working and nighttime hours to sleeping. A few hours after dusk, the body begins to emit the hormone melatonin to prepare for sleep. Melatonin secretion lasts until shortly after morning. The body doesn’t reach its peak state of physical and mental alertness until some time after melatonin secretion stops. As a result, work is done most efficiently during the day.

The Northeast experiences the shortest amount of daylight throughout the winter, from roughly 6 am to 4 pm, whilst the western region of the country normally experiences daylight from 7 am to 6 pm. This results in someone working in the Northeast after sunset (assuming working hours are from 9 am to 6 pm) when one’s efficiency is lower than usual because the body is biologically ready to rest. This causes sleep deprivation in children and adults which in turn becomes the reason for poor health and lack of productivity at work.

Coming to the other side of India, i.e. Western India. Despite the fact that sunrise and sunset times vary greatly across India, schools and offices generally open at the same hour. In Gujarat, where the sun rises as late as 8 a.m., schools open as early as 8.30 a.m. when children’s body clocks are not in sync with the daily solar cycle. The sun is out until 8 p.m. depending on the season, while businesses like schools and offices close by 5 or 6 p.m. This may result in poor work efficiency & subpar academic performance, which ultimately leads to lower wages and salaries. A significant amount of natural light and people’s ability to stay awake are wasted and compromised to follow the country-wide standard time.

According to Jagnani in his research paper ‘Children’s Sleep and Human Capital Production’, “sleep makes study effort more productive, but as later sunset reduces sleep duration, it makes studying less effective, decreasing children’s study time. An hour’s delay in sunset time reduces children’s sleep by roughly 30 minutes, and by reducing the likelihood of children completing primary and middle school education, reduces their time in school by 0.8 years on average. It reduces school enrolment by 11% and significantly decreases students’ math test scores. Further, among adults, later sunsets are also associated with fewer hours of sleep and lower wages, an effect more visible among the poor because the poor may lack the financial resources to invest in sleep-inducing goods.”

As a result of all the aforementioned problems, low labour productivity, poor health, and lower child literacy, India’s economy has become less efficient, costing the country billions of dollars annually. Apart from these, according to prior studies done by professors D.P. Sengupta and Dilip Ahuja of the National Institute of Advanced Studies, advancing IST by just half an hour will result in annual savings of 2.7 billion units of electricity in all Indian states combined. A reduction in energy consumption will significantly cut down India’s carbon footprint boosting India’s resolve to fight climate change and promote the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan.

All of this may be resolved by creating a second time zone for India’s northeastern region, which will lead to greater efficiencies in the workforce and reduce energy usage. Even India’s official timekeepers themselves had proposed two time zones a few years prior, one for the majority of the country and the other for eight states, including seven in the more remote northeastern region. There would be an hour difference between the two time zones. However, the parliament rejected the petition on various grounds.

Source: Current Science

There are various compromises when switching from one time zone to two. These may include a mismatch in office timings, working hours will be different for banks and the chances of railway accidents will increase. Synchronising railway traffic is one of the many requirements for implementing two time zones without which there will be utter confusion. In a country with high illiteracy levels, there will be a huge amount of chaos on the borders between the two time zones. It would require people to set up their clocks every time they cross each time zone. Political consequences with two different time zones can be adverse when India is already divided on the lines of religion, caste, race, language, etc, now will also get divided into the lines of time zone. Marking and maintaining the line between two zones will not be an easy task for the government.

What can be done, then? There are two available alternatives that can be adopted. First, the permanent shift of IST to one hour i.e. 6:30+ UTC to 90 degrees east will be better than two time zones (in terms of better work and energy efficiency). Second, Daylight Saving Time can also be used from April to September to effectively use daylight. Day Light Saving will help to save energy and provide additional daylight hours in the evening and increase productivity. It also promotes tourism since extra daylight hours encourage longer outings and higher spending by visitors. A win-win for everyone.

Daylight saving time or two time zones in India will not be simple to integrate. Before implementation, all the factors must be carefully studied and the recommendation must be supported by the ability of the government to track changes in the gathered data in the economic activity pattern of the nation. It’s essential to consult the stakeholders to find a way to make use of the lost light hours that are dimmed by a common IST. Until then IST will keep rolling a cycle of sleep loss, lack of productivity, poor education, lower wages for western India, wastage of natural resources, and extra usage of light in eastern India, which quantifies to an annual loss of ₹29,000 crores.


Reference :

  1. Sharma, Lakhi & De, S. & Kandpal, Preeti & Olaniya, Mahavir & Yadav, Suchi & Thorat, Pranalee & Panja, Subhasis & Arora, Poonam & Agarwal, Ashish & Senguttuvan, T.D. & Ojha, V.N. & Aswal, D.K.. (2018). Necessity of ‘two time zones: IST-I (UTC + 5: 30 h) and IST-II (UTC + 6: 30 h)’ in India and its implementation. Current Science. 115. 1252-1261. 10.18520/cs/v115/i7/1252-1261.
  2. Jagnani, Maulik. (2022). Children’s Sleep and Human Capital Production. The Review of Economics and Statistics. 1-45. 10.1162/rest_a_01201.