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November 25, 1999


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E-Mail this story to a friend Krishna Prasad

Northeasterners are up against a mammoth obstacle -- Indian Standard Time

Is it possible that a lone, soft-spoken cricket match referee from little Sri Lanka could have more brains (and balls) than all the politicians, bureaucrats, economists, technocrats, industrialists, experts and "thinkers" in all of India put together? Not merely on a matter involving cricket alone, but on a touchy, sentimental issue that symbolises the neglect of one of the most beautiful parts of this country as well?

The short answer is, yes.

Here's why: On November 14, India took on New Zealand in Guwahati, the capital of Assam, in the fourth one-day match of the series. The tie was as significant as one-dayers can get. India was leading 2-1; a win here would have helped the home side to wrap up the five-match series. New Zealand, on the other hand, had to win to stay in the hunt for the "title" and keep cash-conscious cricket administrators happy.

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For such a "crucial" match, it was imperative that the game run its full 100-over course, and not be reduced to 45-over-a-side match. However, in trying to accomplish that aim, the ICC referee Ranjan Madugalle ran into a huge problem: If the match began at the same time as it does elsewhere in India (9 am), it would be dark by the time it ended, which would be unfair to the team batting second.

To quote The Hindu of the day: 'It was through Madugalle's efforts... that the (playing) conditions were worked out for an early start to the game in order to counter the early dusk in this part of the country. To get in 100 overs, it thus became imperative that the match started early. In order to maximise the playing time the teams agreed to an early start and a reduced lunch break.'

Thus the match began at 8.45 am and ended before the shadows crept in. Thankfully, India lost to keep the series "alive" and that was that.

Now, suppose every man, woman and child in the north-ast played a one-day match, day after day, in the great tournament called life. To squeeze in as much as possible before draw of stumps each day--to maximise their playing time -- they would need to do what Ranjan Madugalle did: start early. But unlike the ICC referee who only had to contend with (and alter) the "playing conditions", north-easterners are up against a mammoth obstacle.

And it's called Indian Standard Time (IST).

"The early dusk in this part of the country", as The Hindu correspondent so quaintly puts it, is no accident of nature. The dusk sets in earlier in the northeast of India than on the "mainland" because the day dawns here earlier than elsewhere in the country. Sunrise is early as is sunset. It happens because it is the eastern-most outpost of this country. The sun's rays hit the northeast first, and leave the northeast first.

But our Delhi-centric politicians and bureaucrats -- and our intellectuals and 'thinkers" and other fully paid-up members of the Lahore Club -- have been so caught up with matters Punjabi that for some 52 years they have wanted to believe that the sun comes up and goes down at the same time over every inch of India. What is more, they want the people of the northeast to believe that, too. And to accomplish that, they have perpetrated the great hoax called IST on an innocent people.

They may have fooled northeasterners all this while, but they couldn't fool Ranjan Madugalle on November 14, 1999.

The simple fact is that the IST which all India uses just doesn't hold good in the northeast. Reason: the Indian Standard Time is five-and-a-half hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Bangladesh which is to the EAST of India and to the WEST of the north-east of India is six hours ahead of GMT!! So, what is the Indian government trying to accomplish by retaining northeast in the same time zone? Simply put, it is this idiocy that results in "the early dusk in this part of the country".

Indian Stretchable Time may be a lousy cliche on the "mainland", but for people in the northeast, IST is a race against time, all the time.

The sun rises in Khonsa, the easternmost village in Arunachal Pradesh, at 4.30 am IST and sets at 4 pm IST, a good 90 minutes before Bombay. In Assam, it is daylight by 5 am IST. In Imphal, people are up and about and cycling away to glory by 6 am IST. Editors in Delhi get the first calls of the day from correspondents in the northeast at 7 am IST, not because they wake up early in those parts because it's already 8 am technically.

What this means is that the northeast is ready for the day a full 60 minutes before the "mainland", but they aren't being allowed to because of IST which demands that they wait. What it also means is that people are staying up a whole hour longer than they should -- and keeping lights on and increasing peak power requirements -- and going to bed a whole hour later than they should.

In short, the IST is the cause of a criminal waste of time, money, manpower, energy, power, you-name-it.

Quite innocently, IST is forcing people in the northeast to wait for the rest of India to wake up before they can get down to doing business. What it is also doing is that people in the northeast, not particularly famous for their efficiency anyway, are losing a whole hour -- probably the best hour--of the day because some nincompoops in Delhi continue to get their geography wrong. And don't want to get it right.

Why this is so is impossible to guess. Maybe some babu in the PMO thinks that a common time zone is another way of achieving the unity in diversity nonsense that our history books are so full of. Fair enough, for a faraway land and generally neglected people, IST may be the only thing they have in common with the rest of India, but it is a lousy consolation for the raw deal they have got since Partition, twice over.

If the United States of America can have three time zones and still be "one" country, why can't we have two or three? Why can't we say goodbye to this bogus "one-ness" in the name of greater efficiency?

Why can't we have a Northeast Standard Time (NEST)?

Since Bangladesh is six hours ahead of GMT, NEST could be six-and-a-half hours ahead of GMT, or an hour ahead of IST. What this will do is bring about the essential time parity. When it is 9.30 am here, it will be already be 10.30 am there, and people will (presumably) be at work, instead of waiting for the rest of India to catch up, by which time it will already be 11.30 am there and half an hour to lunch and 'tamul'!

In fact, Assam's tea gardens, ever so conscious of getting the best for their money, have a time zone of their own. They call it "bagan" or garden time. It's not official, of course, because that can be construed as "subversive" by the experts in Delhi. But bagan works and is a one full hour ahead of IST. Which means if tea workers report to work at 8.30 bagan, it is still 7.30 am on the mainland, and thank God for that.

Why can't we simply follow suit with NEST?

The northeast's problem in securing a separate time zone is primarily one of articulation. A meek, civilised people has been ill-served by its 24 representatives in Parliament to a sad, almost hopeless degree. Had Punjab been in the northeast and had able-bodied Surds been made to wait for an hour for the rest of India to wake up for them to unfurl the green revolution, they would have chewed the you-know-what of our politicians till they had a different time zone.

Northeasterners have been too good for their own good.

What the northeast needs to start with is a time-wise reality-check starting with NEST. Not promises of Rs 6,000 crore worth of projects from every single government, Deve Gowda downwards, of which not more than a rupee arrives. Primarily due to its distance from Delhi -- Vietnam is closer to Guwahati as the crow flies -- and due to the inability of our ruling class to think beyond Punjab, Wagah, Lahore and bus rides, a most beautiful part of this country has been given the short shrift.

NEST is a good place to start making amends.

Krishna Prasad

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