Bombay Time

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In the year 1906 the Indian Standard Time was introduced but in Bombay uptill the year 1955 IST was not followed and what was followed came to be known as Bombay Time. It was in the year 1884 that India was divided into two time zones, one known as Calcutta Time and the other as Bombay Time. From 1880s onwards till the early twentieth century there were debates and arguments around the idea of which time zone should be followed in the city. Until 1955, Bombay had its own time and was located in its own time zone, distinct from the standard time that applied to the rest of India. In effect, this meant Bombay was behind Indian Standard Time by 38 minutes and 50 seconds precisely.

From 1906 onwards when the IST was introduced the city of Bombay followed the two times concurrently. The government offices, railways and telegraph, and some major business houses followed the Indian Standard Time, whereas the Bombay Municipal Corporation, the mills, smaller businesses, and most of the city’s inhabitants followed the Bombay time. The divergence between the two caused confusion. Municipal Corporation clocks showed Bombay time, while the Victoria Terminus Station just across the road featured Indian Standard Time with a difference of 38 minutes between the two clocks.

In the year 1881 the then governor, Sir James Fergusson, tried to impose a single time, following the Madras time, on thecity and on Bombay Presidency but was faced with resistance and finally in May 1883, Fergusson took the step back and local time was restored in government offices.

The Government of India decided in June 1905 to move to an hourly zone system. The background was the worldwide adoption of Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) as the prime meridian imposed Indian Standard Time on the city from 1 January 1906. As might have been expected from the nineteenth century experience, there was strong resistance to the government and for much the same reasons. In the event, the government was unable to enforce its decision. A contemporary news- paper claimed, perhaps inaccurately, that some nine-tenths of the city retained the old usage. Nevertheless, the government this time refused to make any concessions, even though the protests assumed a nationalist character when Pherozeshah Mehta, the fiery nationalist Congress leader, entered the fray, arguing that the government should not enforce something that people clearly did not want. The government refused to alter its position. In consequence, the two times, Bombay time and Indian Standard Time, continued to be used side by side in the city for another half century. In the process, the issue had touched on a whole range of emotions: anti-government feelings; urban loyalty and pride; nationalist sentiment; intercity rivalries; religious commitment; daily work routines; and social interactions among them. The differing times affected city behaviour sufficiently deeply for time terminology to be absorbed into the city’s patois, becoming part of urban vocabulary that survived in common usage into the following century.

For Further Readings:

Jim Masselos (2017) Bombay Time/Standard Time