Once dead, every Tom Dick and Harry have started eulogizing Sir Arthur C. Clarke, for his vision but what is interesting is how far his wise advices were taken or not by our leaders when he was still alive.
A clear case is how his advice was entirely ignored when Sir Arthur C. Clarke publicly requested the present government not to change back to GMT+5.30 standard from the earlier GMT+6.00 or what was popularly known as ‘Chandrika Time’.
In that occasion the advice of some astrologers’ bypassed Clarke’s and Sri Lanka continues to use the ‘Standard time’ that Clarke never wanted to.
This was the full statement Sir Arthur C. Clarke issued. It is self explanatory why he prefers ‘Chandrika time’ or GMT+6.00 to ‘Mahinda Time’ or GMT+5.30.
I have followed with interest the current debate on readjusting Sri Lanka standard time to what it was before May 1996. It is a sign of our mature democracy that such proposals can be discussed widely before a final decision is made. I would like to offer my thoughts to help the government reach a rational decision.
As we can recall, the clock was adjusted in 1996 during a major electricity shortage,as a measure of daylight saving. A decade later, Sri Lanka is still struggling to meet the growing energy demands, and spending vast amounts on imported oil that generates more than half of our electricity supply. I understand from the CEB’s published data that the electricity use load in the evenings is considerably more than that in the mornings.
So if we put the clock back by half an hour as proposed, dusk will fall sooner — and households will be consuming more electricity for lighting. Both the country’s generation costs and individual electricity bills could go up as a result.
I do share the concern that the prevailing time requires some children to leave home for schools fairly early – sometimes while it is still dark. The best solution for this is to start school sessions later. (In neighbouring India, for example, most schools start at 9.30 or 10 am.) Let’s not forget that the current standard time allows an extra half hour of daylight in the evenings for adults to get back home and for children to play.
Beyond these very valid local concerns, I would like to draw attention to macro level implications of changing Sri Lanka’s standard time again. We standardise time because we need to deal with others. In the 19th century, for example, every little town in the US had its own time: the impossibility of running trains under this scheme gave rise to standard time. In today’s rapidly globalising world, Sri Lanka cannot afford to keep changing a fundamental attribute like standard time every few years. Such a move could harm the perception of foreign investors, international banks, airlines and tourists – at a time when we are trying to attract them all.
There are sound reasons for maintaining our standard time as GMT + 6 hours. The earlier time (GMT + 5:30) caused considerable confusion to those based outside Sri Lanka. Going back to that time can inconvenience over a million Sri Lankans now living and working overseas, whose remittances are vital to our economy. Sri Lankan companies competing for outsourced data processing and other business opportunities in the global knowledge economy have an advantage with the current standard time.
Indeed, most countries in the world have a full hour’s difference with GMT. (I have been telling every Indian VIP I meet that they should get rid of their half-hour difference!).
Older Sri Lankans can probably recall the consternation caused in the 1960s when we changed our weekend to follow the lunar calendar. It took years to recover from that misstep. I sincerely hope that wiser counsel would prevail on this occasion.
Vidya Jyothi Sir Arthur C Clarke
Colombo, 14 March 2006