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A matter of time

INDEED, a matter of time will be matter for debate in at least a part of 2002 and, before the year is out, India may well be divided in two — by time. At present, the whole of India is just one time zone, 5-1/2 hours ahead of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT), which sets the standard for the world.

This is a time difference the country has observed for two hundred years, from the time Madras' John Goldingham, designated as the first official Astronomer of the (East India) Company in India, established the longitude of Madras in 1802 as 80{+o}18'30" East.

The Standard Clock in the Madras Observatory (on College Road) set the Standard Time for India from then — and all Madras knew it at the sound of the boom from Fort St. George at 8 p.m. every day.

The sound was that of the time gun being fired to announce that all was well with Indian Standard Time. The clock in the Observatory was directly connected to the gun and triggered it.

After Independence, it was decided to make up difference between GMT and India as accurate a 5-1/2 hours as possible and, so Mirzapur in Uttar Pradesh, at 82{+o}36' E, was named as the town that would replace Madras as the location that would set Indian Standard Time. With India's western and eastern borders 2000 km apart, India could well have three time zones.

But what appears to be the popular view suggests that points east of Kolkata (88{+o} 24'E) observe Eastern Standard Time and points west of it Western Standard Time, based on Bhopal (77{+o} 24'E) time, with an hour's difference between. Thus, clocks in Madras will show 5 p.m. when Manipur clocks show 6 p.m.

Alternatively, it has been suggested that it might be better if all States west of Bhopal (including J & K, Himachal and all of Madhya Pradesh) observe Western Standard Time, Bhopal time, and everything east by it, including Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, observe Eastern Standard Time, Kolkata time.

With the different office and school timings either suggestion will ensure, such zoning would, it is believed, save considerable energy and ensure maximum use of the sun's energy. There are, however, many doubters who wonder about the necessity for this — they point to China, with an extent that would necessitate several time zones, functioning on one standard time.

On the other hand, those in favour point out that the U.S. and Russia each have five time zones.

S. MUTHIAH

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