The Sri Lanka time zone shift?

by Michael S. Kaplan, published on 2006/04/03 11:06 -07:00, original URI:

Time zones are never easy. Even when it seems like they ought to be....

The latest flap is going on now in Sri Lanka.

The official plan is succinctly described here:

Sri Lanka will put back its clocks by half an hour and revert to the practise of having the same standard time as India after its 10-year experiment to save daytime failed.

You have to love objectivity in journalism, don't you? :-)

It also ends with one interesting note:

Sri Lanka reverting back to its old time zone would have implications for astrologers, computers, airline schedules and Microsoft whose latest windows versions give Sri Lanka standard time as 6.00 hrs ahead of GMT.

Interesting because the primary consequence I tend to see is a flurry of mails from different support contexts (PSS, MCS, and many others) as customers call up concerned about another time zone change....

We deal with it all the time, and follow whatever is going on. So there really are no worries here as the updates do happen as needed.

I find myself (in my unofficial capacity as someone with very little say in any of this) agreeing with Arthur C. Clarke and his thoughts on the matter:

British science fiction guru Arthur C Clarke today asked Sri Lanka not to change the standard time after a 10-year experiment on daylight saving and asked India to put the clock forward and join Colombo in a common time zone.

Wouldn't it make more sense, at least a little bit?

There is also a BBC article that notes one wryly amusing matter in all this:

The whole debate is being wryly observed by the Tamil Tiger rebels, who control large parts of the island's north and east.

They ignored the 1996 change, leading to two de facto time zones within the country.

As Sri Lankans in the south get ready for a possible adjustment of their watches, some have observed that at least there is one thing that the two sides finally agree on.

Fair point. Though I do kind of wonder whether, if a change must happen, whether having everyone fall into line is better than a synchronized bit of falling out of line....

Of course the issue ends up being more complicated, since it involves politics and language and even religion (one of those articles I mentioned early points out that there are people who believe that disasters like Tsunami happened because of the original time zone change in Sri Lanka a decade ago).

I have no specific opinion on this matter other than to believe that punishment (when it exists) from either parent or deity should principally punish only the wrong-doers, and therefore it is unlikely to be the cause in this case (in my humble opinion).

If I am wrong, look for the blog to be on fire soon....


This post brought to you by "" (U+0d9d, a.k.a. SINHALA LETTER MAHAAPRAANA GAYANNA)

# Ambarish Sridharanarayan on Tuesday, April 04, 2006 12:10 AM:

OK, I'm missing something here. Clarke says something about the importance of time zone stability, which I agree with. But what are the reasons for suggesting India switch too? I can't find any in the article. Since you agreed with him, maybe you can say what your reasons are?

# Michael S. Kaplan on Tuesday, April 04, 2006 12:29 AM:

The problem is with these odd time zones that are not on the regular hour boundaries that most of the world's time zones are on.

# Phylyp on Tuesday, April 04, 2006 5:58 AM:

I'm in India and find myself agreeing with Arthur C Clarke. The 5.5 hr difference is just maddening. When doing quick TZ conversions, I tend to mix up the .5 calculation, and usually end up 1 hr off.

Which means I'm dialing into a call 1 hr early :)

Well, thanks to MS for their Time Zone utility - it matches my expectations exactly.

I'm curious what what the rationale for India selecting a 5.5 hr offset, instead of 5 or 6 hrs. Being close to the equator, we don't face much daylight variations, so a half-hour diff shouldn't matter.

# Roozbeh Pournader on Tuesday, April 04, 2006 8:52 AM:

Well, Iran also did it this (Persian) year. Two days before the daylight switch was supposed to happen, they cancelled the former rules. But guess what? The next day, the long Iranian new year holiday started, which is officially only five days, but for most of the people it's two weeks (ending this last Sunday). This resulted in many Linux and Unix servers and desktops displaying the wrong time. I could only fix FarsiWeb's servers and desktops two days after they automatically went to the abandoned daylight saving rule.

But what about Windows desktops and servers in Iran? Well, they were already on pot. For whatever reason, Windows has the Iranian daylight saving switch some time in early March instead of late March when it happens, so they had already switched their time to +0430, resulting in the caring users changing the clock back one hour manually. But that would mean that while the clock displayed fine, emails going and coming would be tagged with the wrong time. Also, when the user travelled, he couldn't just switch the timezone on his laptop and go. He needed to readjust the time.

The Microsoft data for Iranian timezone has even made me arrive one hour early in a meeting. For the story, see paragraphs two and three in this post:

Anyway, Microsoft should really consider a collaboration with the Olson database guys and use their data after that. Linux guys are using that, Apple is using that, IBM is using that, in short I believe everyone but Microsoft uses that database. Yes, it is volunteers on the Internet that maintain that database, but IETF is also officially volunteers on the Internet. Microsoft implements IETF standards, doesn't it?

# Ambarish Sridharanarayan on Tuesday, April 04, 2006 11:40 AM:

Well, I agree that switching to UTC+5 or UTC+6 would make things more convenient, but I think touting the need for time-zone stability in Sri Lanka, and in the same breath suggesting India, a bigger economy, switch time zones, is just plain hypocritical, IMO.

# Michael S. Kaplan on Tuesday, April 04, 2006 12:28 PM:

Well, as I said, I find myself having this opinion "in my unofficial capacity as someone with very little say in any of this". I certainly don't think I am as smart as ACC, for example....

# Maurits on Tuesday, April 04, 2006 1:46 PM:

> rationale for India selecting a 5.5 hr offset

India straddles the +5 and +6 hour solar time zones.

The options are:
* Uniform +5 time zone
* Uniform +6 time zone
* Split the country in two: +5 on the left, +6 on the right
* Uniform +5.5 time zone

The +5 and +6 time zones have the disadvantage that people in the extreme East or West of the country have a severe difference between official "India" time, and solar time.

I sort of like the +5.5 solution.  India's certainly not the only country to have a fractional time zone offset.  The Chatham Islands (by New Zealand) have a +12.75 offset, but they don't buy many Windows machines ;)

Sri Lanka is just on the +5 side ("West") of the +5.5 solar time line.  I could understand them using +5; I could understand them using +5.5; I could even understand them using "whatever India uses."  +6 I don't understand, unless they're trying to be ornery.

warning: large image

# Ambarish Sridharanarayanan on Tuesday, April 04, 2006 2:52 PM:

Splitting India into 2 time-zones would have an enormous political cost - the Centre would be accused of trying to "divide" the country. Plus it may not be geographically feasible. Many big cities are near the east-west centre of the country along the same longitude - Delhi, Hyderabad, Madras. I imagine choosing the solar time line as the time zone border would cause a huge ruckus in Calcutta, as that would be the only big city left East of the line.

China, much wider than India, manages to get away with a single time-zone, arguably because most of its population is concentrated in the East. Although the Uyghur and other minorities in Xingiang don't care much for the sun rising at 9am and setting at 10pm.

As for why Sri Lanka could choose to be in UTC+6, there's precedence:

# Maurits on Tuesday, April 04, 2006 6:31 PM:

> China, much wider than India, manages to get away with a single time-zone

That's very interesting.  In fact, if I'm gauging this right, China is wider than the 48 contiguous United States.


"time adoption is more business than science" - very well put!

# Michael S. Kaplan on Tuesday, April 04, 2006 7:02 PM:

I am sure there are many in China who have to either ignore the time zone rule or just keep clocks set two different ways -- as it is pretty unrealistic to have your clock *that* far off.... :-)

# Maurits on Tuesday, April 04, 2006 8:12 PM:

According to Time magazine,10987,960684,00.html
... there was a separate "Urumqi Time" zone in February 1st, 1986.

According to Wikipedia
... this was GMT+6.

But, apparently, no longer.

# Kumar Punchihewa on Sunday, April 09, 2006 2:49 PM:

I think we should continue with GMT+0600 which we have got used to during the last ten years. If school children are inconvenienced in the mornings re-schedule school times to 0900 hours to 1530 hours Sri Lanka Time (GMT+6), with a half hour break for lunch during mid-day.

By reversing the clock on new year day, we are on "reverse gear" from day one in the new year!!!

# Umapathy on Monday, April 17, 2006 2:49 AM:

I welcome this change. Especially I travel a lot within Sri Lanka and I found two different times one by the govenment (GMT+6) and other rebels (GMT+5.5) now both of them are matching so who ever travels need not to change the time at all.  I also request small addon that changes the time utility in Microsoft Windows 98/Me/2000/XP/2003/Vista system as GMT 5.5 as Sri Lanka insted of current GMT 6 as Sri Lanka. I also request Linux developers to change accordingly.

# Umapathy on Monday, April 17, 2006 3:08 AM:

I well come this change since I found two diffent time systems before namely GMT+6 and GMT +5.5. Now this merger will solve these problems. Microsft Windows 98/Me/2000/XP/2003/Vista have time zones GMT+6 for Sri Lanka. I appreciate if Microsoft could release an addon that put Sri Lanka in GMT 5.5 region. Scientifically Sri Lanka is GMT 5Hours and 20 minutes (Sri Lanka is more close to  80E from Green which). I also welcome Linux developers to do the same

# kalinga on Tuesday, April 18, 2006 6:20 AM:


he's how to set windows2000/xp/2003 time zone backto GMT+5.30

# Gupta on Friday, June 09, 2006 4:34 AM:

I actually welcome the idea. India and Sri Lanka are trading partners. And it is great to have the same time, especially since travel between the two countries is very popular. We must remember that very few people do international calls. The 5:30 time came as a compromise to having 5 time and 6 time. However, having just two time zones is not needed. If India were wider, then it can have time zones, but not at its actual size.

referenced by

2008/06/29 Did someone break GetTimeZoneInformation in XP?

2006/05/24 Did somebody say time zones were intuitive?

2006/04/05 Ok, so there may be *some* worries here

2006/04/03 Time zones make me cringe

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