had a special person visiting us last week: none other than the
former Director of Energy Planning, Ministry of Irrigation,
Power and Energy, G. B. Aelred Fernando, the man who changed the
time of this country.
I met him again at his home on Sunday morning
for a chat. Relaxing in his easy chair, he recalled his career
in the public service. "Don’t change it," he emphasised. This
"change" that he referred to is the government’s moves to put
back the clock by half an hour and revert to the original
standard time of being five-and-a-half hours ahead of Greenwich
Mean Time (GMT).
In May 1996, the then government advanced the
clock by an hour and by October that year brought it back by
half an hour to put Sri Lanka six hours ahead of GMT. Since
then, the people have got accustomed to it.
Fernando said there are two good reasons why
there should not be a change. "By differing from GMT by the
multiple of one hour, we have joined a club of nearly 190
countries which follow the same pattern, that is the number of
minutes and seconds is identical and only the hour differs," he
This is advantageous in global communications.
Only five or six countries in the world have the odd half an
hour plus or minus GMT. The world itself is divided into time
zones that differ in multiples of one hour and countries
normally adopt the time in the zone that they fall into. Some
countries fix their standard time one hour ahead of the time in
the zone in order to benefit from daylight savings, he said.
London, Paris and Madrid fall within the same
time zone, but the time in Paris and Madrid is an hour ahead of
London because European Standard Time is an hour ahead of GMT.
Countries in the former Soviet Union have fixed their time an
hour ahead of their zonal time.
Mumbai falls into the zonal time of five hours
ahead of GMT while Kolkotta is in the GMT plus six hour zone,
but India has decided to have its standard time at GMT plus five
and a half hours. This is probably due to cultural and
historical reasons since the well known historical astronomical
observatory, Janthar Manthar in Jaipur is located in the
meridian, five and a half hours ahead of GMT.
"The advantage of communicating with countries
that have the same time past the hour is obvious and needs no
elaboration. We presently have this advantage with most
countries of the world," Fernando said.
Fernando’s second reason for retaining the
present time is that we enjoy daylight saving as a result of
being an hour ahead of the time zone we belong to. "The saving
in electricity consumption is not the only benefit, people enjoy
additional daylight in the evening for a variety of activities,
compared to what they lose in the mornings. In most cases they
lose this time oversleeping," he said.
Children have to get up early to go to school
due to other reasons, he said. "School children need not leave
their homes before 7 a.m. if they are expected to reside within
two miles of their school. The school authorities should examine
the reasons for complaints instead of putting the blame on the
advancing of standard timem," Fernando said. In fact, school
times were adjusted after the standard time was changed.
The saving in electricity consumption when the
clock is put forward is because people go to bed earlier.
"However," Fernando pointed out, "these days there are popular
TV programmes and political ‘talk shop’ programmes that keep
people tuned into the TV till very late in the night, sometimes
even into the wee hours of the morning. The consumption of
electricity due to late TV shows counter the daylight savings."
Fernando had a plan for this. "It must be
remembered that the electricity tariff is subsidised and
unwanted household electricity consumption is billed to public
funds. Popular TV programmes including news could conclude by 10
p.m. It would be useful to consider introducing an unsubsidised
domestic electricity tariff between 9 p.m. and 1 a.m. and
introduce the time of day tariffs, in order to encourage people
to retire to bed at normal times or alternatively be prepared to
pay the additional cost," he said.
How did the process of changing the time start,
I asked Fernando. His reply was interesting, revealing the
nature of the State bureaucracy and the might of majority
Changing the time, 1982-4
In March 1982, Walter Rupasinghe from Kotte, on
his return from a visit to Malaysia and Singapore made a request
to then President J. R. Jayawardane to consider advancing the
time in Sri Lanka to benefit from daylight savings. Malaysia and
Singapore had done this successfully to reduce pressure on
electricity consumption. The President, who was also the
Minister of Power and Energy, asked the Ceylon Electricity Board
to prepare a report.
"The CEB report was forwarded to me in my
capacity as Director, Energy Planning and I suggested that the
time be advanced by half an hour to make it a multiple of one
hour," Fernando said.
This proposal was forwarded to the Committee of
Development Secretaries (DSC). The DSC rejected the proposal
stating that school children will be greatly inconvenienced as
they already have to get up very early.
The newspapers reported that the DSC had
rejected a very good proposal. On seeing these reports, Arthur
C. Clarke had written to President Jayawardane that the proposal
was a very good one and that he himself had advocated it 20
years ago in order to get rid of the "odd half hour".
At the next cabinet meeting it was agreed to put
forward the clock by half an hour and the DSC was directed to
implement it. At the DSC meeting held on 7th February 1984,
chaired by G. V. P. Samarasinghe, he stated that the cabinet had
directed the DSC to implement the proposal but a timeframe had
not been given. Samarasinghe had said "we will implement it when
we want" and a committee was appointed to submit a detailed
report to the DSC. The proposal then died a natural death.
Changing the time, 1992-6
Eight years later, the proposal was submitted
again to the cabinet by the then Acting Minister of Power and
Energy, Sarathchandra Rajakaruna. The cabinet approved the
proposal and a committee of officials, chaired by the secretary
to the Cabinet was appointed to examine the matter and report
back. That was in June 1992. Like before, there was no follow up
The project was subsequently revived suddenly
and swiftly. "On May 24, 1996 I was summoned by the Secretary to
the Ministry of Power and Energy, Jaliya Medagama to meet the
Minister of Power and Energy Anuruddha Ratwatte in his office in
Parliament and draft the announcement to advance Sri Lanka’s
time that night itself," Fernando said.
The country was facing a grave electricity
crisis and the minister wanted to advance the clock by an hour.
"I drafted the announcement at 2 p.m. and on my return to office
after lunch around 3 p.m. I heard the announcement being made
over the car radio by SLBC," he said.
There were many objections, judging from letters
to the editor in newspapers and a committee of officials
prepared a report on the advancing of time.
On the basis of the report, the government put
back the time by half an hour by fixing Sri Lanka standard time
at six hours ahead of GMT. Complaints gradually reduced and
people got used to the new time.
Majority vs. Minority
Fernando had something to learn through the
whole process. "During the course of changing the time I learnt
that going by the choice of the majority, even though that is
democratic, is not correct. The rights of the minority have to
be safeguarded as well," he said.
"If we go by what the majority says, then the
education department in this country might as well be
administered by failed candidates at the GCE O’Level as they are
the majority," he quipped.
"The problems in our country have been caused
largely by accepting the views of the majority and ignoring the
rights of the minority. Politicians try to take control of
everything. It we had retained the senate, the rights of the
minorities could have been safeguarded just as in the United
Kingdom and India. This is the true practice of democracy."
"We are now looking at India to implement a
suitable form of governance. In addition tofederalism we also
need to copy the concept of a second chamber, independent civil
service, independent judicial service and elections commission
and not allow politicians to take all power into their hands,"
"The civil service must be strong and independent and be able
to safeguard the values of the nation, without being subject to
politicians. This where we have gone wrong and we must correct
ourselves," Fernando said.