Why India Could Do With One More Time Zone

This article traces the genesis of the current standardisation of time and provides a rationale for introducing changes to the Indian Standard Time, and proposes several policy options. 

As the earth rotates 360 degrees every 24 hours, a longitudinal span of 15 degrees corresponds to a shift by an hour. India spans a longitudinal difference of 30 degrees from the western state of Gujarat to Arunachal Pradesh in the East. However, India has a single time zone, defined by mean longitude at 82.5 degrees east of the Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), passing through Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh. This results in almost a two-hour difference in sunrise from east to west. Usually, for the “surplus” in daylight in the morning hours, countries often implement measures such as daylight saving time (DST) and multiple time zones. 

The basic objective of introducing DST is to adjust the hours of human activity to make the best use of daylight. It follows from the assumption that human activity is driven by a standardised notion of time. If it were the case that individuals were following local time in a town or village, the need for introducing daylight savings would be futile. Since its conception, more than 70 countries have since used some form of DST, including the United States, Russia, and most of Europe (Murti 2010). 

The following illustrations (Figures 1–3) explain this concept: 

Figure 1: During winter months, the work day is more or less aligned with the period of daylight. 
Figure 2: During summer months, when sunrise is earlier, there is wasted daylight – as people are more likely to be active in the evening.
Figure 3: To provide more evening hours with daylight, the DST ‘shifts’ the daylight such that more hours of daylight are available in the evening—when people are more likely to be at home.



The current state of are the Indian economy, with up to 75% of the workforce employed in the informal sector in rural areas and 69% in urban areas (Chandrasekhar 2014), and 51 % of the total employment concentrated in the agricultural sector as of 2010 (World Bank 2017), affords the ability to follow an informal time zone. In fact, those working on the tea plantations in the eastern state of Assam operate on their own time, often known as the “tea garden time” (NDTV 2016). 

However, there are growing demands for a formal change in the Indian Standard Time (IST) from the eastern and north-eastern states of Assam and Arunachal Pradesh. With increasing levels of urbanisation and formalisation of the economy, the IST is likely to play an important role in determining the activities of individuals, not just in the case of eastern India, but as this article will argue, the use of daylight saving and/or additional time zones carry multiple pan-India benefits. 

Prior to the establishment of the IST, there were two time zones established in 1884, namely, the Bombay time and Calcutta time. However, in 1906, the British in India adopted the IST in 1906—defined as being five and a half hours ahead of the GMT. Since then, there were few instances where the IST was changed, most notably between 1942 and 1945 when India had in place a “war time” (one hour ahead of IST). The table below shows the disparity in the sunset and sunrise times in the state capital cities located in the four extreme ends: the north, south, east and west. 


Table 1: Sunset and Sunrise Times across Four ‘Extreme’ Regions

State Capital (Region) Summer Solstice (2017) Winter Solstice (2017)
  Sunrise (IST) Sunset (IST) Sunrise (IST) Sunset (IST)
Srinagar, Jammu and Kashmir (North) 05:19 19:45 07:32 17:25
Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala (South) 06:05 18:42 06:31 18:09
Itanagar, Arunachal Pradesh (East) 04:21 18:12 06:00 16:26
Gandhinagar, Gujarat
05:54 19:28 07:16 17:58

In India, the rationale for considering a change in the time is largely driven by (i) potential energy savings; (ii) its hypothesised effects on promoting physical activity; (iii) mainstreaming the Northeast region; (iii) and meeting other social policy objectives such as reducing road accidents and improving women's safety. 


Potential energy savings: As a result of an increase in daylight in the evenings, households are less likely to use artificial lighting during evenings. Arguments put forward by Ahuja and SenGupta (2012), SenGupta et al (2014), and Ahuja et al (2007) show how an advancement of IST is likely to lead to energy savings of 2.7 billion units (0.3 per cent of the yearly electricity consumption totalling 700 billion units). Although the savings form a small proportion, the authors claim that substantial savings during peak hours are possible given the shift in the load curves. The savings resulting from such a shift can constitute up to 15% of the energy demand during evening peak hours. Also, the peak energy demands might be currently being met through costly, and sometimes polluting, methods of energy production. A reduction in this is likely to have several positive effects. The authors also claim that the savings are likely to rise, given the increase in domestic consumption year-on-year. 


Promoting physical activity: Another rationale for advancing IST is that it may encourage greater sports and recreation participation. It borrows from Hillman’s (2010, 2014) work on extending exposure to daylight in places like the United Kingdom through a permanent DST. The author reasons that the early onset of dusk during non-DST limits accessibility to sports and recreation opportunities. If supported by evidence, such a policy intervention may be used as a “broad-based mechanism” for promoting physical activity (Zick 2014). However, there has been little empirical testing of this hypothesis (Zick 2014). It is likely that the benefits of having an extra hour of sunlight in the evening are greater than the benefits of having the same hour of sunlight in the morning. This is evidenced by survey data such as the American Time Use Survey (ATUS), where Wolff and Makino (in Zick 2014) use the results from the surveys conducted from 2005 through 2008 to show that extending DST is linked to more time spent in outdoor leisure activities vis-à-vis indoor leisure activities. Even though Zick (2014) fails to identify any effect of DST on promoting greater moderate to vigorous physical activity (MVPA), they acknowledge that DST may play a role in shifting MVPA time from indoors to outdoors, or from morning to afternoon/evening. Also, the results are specific to Americans living in the southwest. The effects of DST may vary across climates, latitudes, and seasonal months.

Mainstreaming the North-east: As can be seen from Table 1, in the north-east state of Arunachal Pradesh, the sunrise during the summer solstice is almost an hour before that in the northern-most state of Jammu and Kashmir. Similarly, sunset during the winter month of December occurs at 16.26 during the winter solstice. At the same time, working hours in India are generally from 9 am till 5.30 pm throughout the year (Survey of India, 2017). The policy recommendations proposed in this article should help the north-eastern states to better align economic activities with the rest of the country.

Other social policy objectives: Ahuja et al (2012) also suggest that longer daylight during evenings is likely to contribute towards women's safety and security, the reduction in stoppage for sporting events owing to better lighting conditions, and an increase in professional productivity. However, the armchair reasoning behind the hypothesised effects needs empirical confirmation. Future research may want to investigate the number of hours of daylight available to individuals after respective working hours in countries that lie along the same latitude as India. For example, Japan, which lies along the same latitude, is also considering adopting DST in order to boost domestic consumption, thereby adding $15 billion to Japan’s gross domestic product (Economist 2010). 

There are several options that are available to policymakers to make adjustments to the current time system in place. The options have trade-offs depending upon (i) whether the new system will be applicable pan-India or only regionally; (ii) will it be a permanent shift or daylight saving time; (iii) and what should the magnitude of the shift be. 

Ensuring schools and offices do not extend working hours: If the state has been following its own de facto time, sun time, or local time, then the policy measures proposed here will not yield the desired outcomes. Similarly, if businesses and schools decide to alter their operating hours, it may erode the intended benefits of additional leisure time in the daylight during evenings. For example, business hours in India usually start at 10 am, unlike most places where operating hours are from 8 am onwards (Murti 2010). A relatively late start gives credence for advancing IST due to significant number of hours wasted. However, as time serves as a coordination mechanism, if businesses adjust to the change by shifting hours of operation, then the intended benefits will diminish.

Lack of survey data to monitor impact: Implementation of these recommendations must be supported by the ability of the government to gather data and track changes in activity patterns in order to undertake rigorous evaluation of the impact of such measures.  Such evaluations may include understanding the healthcare costs of the transition by using administrative data on hospital admissions, and estimating the impact on workplace productivity by collaborating with private companies. In addition, the policy intervention also presents an opportunity to assess the impact on subjective well-being, through novel techniques such as the day reconstruction method.  

Lack of peer-reviewed journals and potential publication selection bias: A meta-analysis of the effects of DST on electricity consumption reveals that the current literature is largely restricted to reports from government agencies or electricity companies. As a result, the incentive structure in such institutions might lead to bias in results. In the case of India, there have been only two studies (by the same author) that have investigated the estimates of savings.  

Centre-state cooperation: The Constitution grants the autonomy to states to define and set local times for their respective industrial areas under the provisions in labour laws, such as the Plantations Labour Act, 1951. If requests by the states to consider DST or changes in the IST are repeatedly refused, it may lead to ad hoc measures by states. 

As India increasingly becomes urbanised, with a greater proportion of the workforce employed in non-agricultural activities, the burden of lifestyle diseases and a skewed work–leisure balance is likely to worsen. Also, a growing class of time-watchers will increasingly rely on the IST to coordinate daily activities. By advancing the IST, so as to increase daylight hours in the evening, the state and national governments can potentially benefit from energy savings and improved social outcomes across domains such as health, safety, and well-being. Given the widespread adoption of mobile phones—which can automatically adjust for a time change —the barriers to introduction of such a change have lessened over the years. However, the magnitude and temporal and spatial dimensions of the proposed change in IST will need to be deliberated on; a priori reasoning suggests a permanent shift, rather than a yearly daylight savings time, is more suitable.  Although such a policy could potentially reap low-hanging fruits, such a change would require centre-state and public-private cooperation to ensure nationwide adoption and that working hours for schools and businesses do not increase. 

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