The government in the north-eastern state of Assam, India's top tea-growing state, is pushing to create a separate time zone for the state, one hour ahead of the Indian Standard Time (IST).

"This will help us save energy and better utilise daylight because the sun rises in our state much before it does in other parts of India," said Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi.

The Assam chief minister said that the local time will be guided by Bagaan (tea garden) time.

Assam is India's leading tea and oil producing state with more than 800 tea gardens and four oil refineries processing local crude.

Under labour laws in vogue for the state's 800-odd tea gardens, the working hours start at 8am IST and that has been the way since the days of the British. In the state's oil sector, work starts at 7am IST.

But work in other government and private sector offices starts at 10am IST and continues until 5pm in the evening, as in the rest of India.

"That is what we are seeking to change. We want offices to start one hour ahead, so that we increase our overall productivity and save on energy," chief minister Gogoi said.

"If our offices work from 9am to 4pm rather than starting at 10am and ending at 5pm, we will save one hour of electricity because it gets dark here after 4pm," Gogoi said after sending the proposal for a separate time zone to the federal government.

Indian Power Minister P Umashankar says he will closely examine the Assam proposal and make necessary recommendations to the federal government.

Times are changing

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The Indian Standard Time, set five-and-a-half hours ahead of the international Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), was introduced in 1947.

It was chosen with reference to a mid-point in the country, situated at 82º 30’ longitude east and 23º 11’ latitude north, passing through Allahabad district in India’s most populous state of Uttar Pradesh.

An example of the inconvenience faced by north-eastern states is that it starts to get bright before 4am IST in June in these states, and dark by 5pm IST in November.

Pre-independence India had two time zones.

In the East, Calcutta Time was 5:30:21 hours ahead of GMT, while Bombay Time in the West was 4:51:00 hours ahead of GMT.

Calcutta Time was abandoned in 1948 and Bombay Time in 1955.

Other examples

Gogoi has found support from some leading citizens in Assam for his separate time zone proposal.

The state's leading filmmaker, Jahnu Barua, has advocated a separate time zone for the whole of north-east India, seven states around Assam, connected to the rest of the Indian mainland by a narrow 22km Siliguri corridor.

"The absence of a time zone that fits local requirements has caused social alienation, imbalance in our biological clocks, caused wastage of electricity and led to loss of productivity in our region," Barua said.

He argued that the north-east, that has suffered long spells of separatist movements and ethnic conflicts, has lost out on productivity due to absence of a separate time zone.

Other experts cite examples of large countries like Russia, USA and Canada which have separate time zones.

This is not the first time a separate time zone has been suggested in India, especially for the eastern states.

In 2006, the Planning Commission recommended the introduction of two time zones in the country, saying it would save "a lot of energy".

But the government refused to implement the idea, saying it would cause disruptions in transport and communications.

The sun rises early in our part of the great country but that is largely wasted because work starts later in tandem with the rest of the country

V Thulsidas, chief secretary of Tripura state

Earlier in 2002, the chief secretary in the north-eastern state of Tripura, V Thulsidas proposed a separate time zone for the eastern states.

"The sun rises early in our part of the great country but that is largely wasted because work starts later in tandem with the rest of the country," Thulsidas had noted.

Thulsidas' report was forwarded to the federal government by the governor D N Sahay of Tripura state in the north-east.

The federal government’s department for science and technology formed a high-level committee to explore the feasibility of two time zones.

But it finally opposed creation of separate time zones, saying it would not provide any major advantage to the states.

On the contrary, the committee argued, such a move would actually pose difficulties due to the differential timings that would have to be done for airlines, railways and communications services.

The federal committee, however, recommended that individual state administrations could take such a step.

"Advancing the work/institutional timing in appropriate states would be more effective solution, which can be implemented through administrative actions by the concerned state," the committee’s recommendation said.

That is what Tarun Gogoi’s government in Assam is seeking to do now.

North-east's own clock

However, he has failed to garner support from neighbouring states in the north-east or West Bengal and Sikkim in the high Himalayas.

"We were approached by the Assam government for support for a separate time zone for east and north-eastern India but we don’t think that is really going to help," says West Bengal Science-Technology Minister Partha Chatterji.

"It may upset many sectors like aviation and railways. What the states in our region can do is to consider advancing our office timings in keeping the daylight hours," Chatterji said.

But lack of support has not deterred Gogoi.

Assam has decided to switch to Bagaan (tea garden) Time, set an hour ahead of Indian Standard Time (IST), Gogoi announced recently.

He said Indian Standard Time has affected the state’s productivity by forcing Assamese to follow a schedule that does not suit them.

Time saves power

Assam is Indias leading tea producer with more than 800 tea gardens [Subhamoy Bhattacharjee/Al Jazeera]

Scientists not favouring separate time zones however, argue that advancing the Indian Standard Time may help save a lot of power.

"All states will save electricity if we were to advance Indian Standard Time by half-an-hour. The amounts of savings will vary in different states from 0.2% to 0.7% of daily consumption. As a percentage of peaking energy consumption, however, the savings are very significant, about 17-18%," said Dilip Ahuja, scientist and author of a 2012 research paper commissioned by the federal ministry of power.

Agrees Debiprasad Sengupta of the Bangalore-based National Institute of Advanced Studies.

"By advancing the Indian Standard Time by just 30 minutes, India could save 2 billion kwh of electricity every year, which will help us close the current production-demand gap," he said.

Ahuja, author of the 2012 research paper, says that different time zones can cause different kinds of problems for India.

"Government offices in those states will close at different times and would be accessible only 75 percent of the time which could lead to potential loss of productivity," he said in response to emailed queries.

Ahuja also says that different time zones could cause chaos for Indian railways, although airlines may still manage.

"India is a country where trains use manual switching to change tracks. Different time zones could cause major confusion in communications between train operators and lead to accidents," Ahuja said.

The consensus so far is states can advance their own office timings to suit daylight hours to improve productivity and save power, but a separate time zone was not really required.

But the Assam chief minister wants to set the clock right, his way.

Source: Al Jazeera