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Last Updated: Monday, 3 April 2006, 14:21 GMT 15:21 UK
Time to end Sri Lanka time split?
By John Sudworth
BBC News, Colombo

Sri Lankan Buddhist high priest, the Venerable Gnanawimala
After this change I feel that many troubles have been caused to Sri Lanka. Tsunamis and other natural disasters have been taking place
The Venerable Gnanawimala

Sri Lanka is a country divided not just by war, but also by time. Officially the country is six hours ahead of GMT. But in Tamil Tiger controlled areas, the time difference is five and a half hours ahead of GMT, the same as in India. Now that may change.

The change in time zone is under discussion. If it happens, it is likely to coincide with the Tamil and Sinhala New Year on 14 April.

It would be Sri Lanka's third official time change in 10 years and will take the country back to where it stood in 1996.

Some of the country's Buddhist clergy are rejoicing at the prospect of a change because they say Sri Lanka's "old" time fitted better with their rituals.

They believe a decade living in the "wrong" time has upset the country's natural order with terrible effect.

The Venerable Gnanawimala says the change moved the country to a spiritual plane 500 miles east of where it should be.

"After this change I feel that many troubles have been caused to Sri Lanka. Tsunamis and other natural disasters have been taking place," he says.

"I agree that this half an hour must be changed again."

'Good for business'

Back in 1996, the idea behind the decision to advance the clocks was pragmatic - to save electricity by making the evenings lighter.

Clocks in the BBC Sinhala offices
Confused? Clocks in the BBC Sinhala service are now on British Summer Time, not GMT

At first, the clocks were put forward by one hour. Later that year, that was reduced to 30 minutes. And that is where the nation, officially, has remained ever since - at a compromise GMT+6.

Sri Lanka's Minister of Enterprise and Development, Rohitha Bogollagama, believes a return to the same time zone as India, a major trading partner, would be good for business.

Children would also benefit from an extra half-hour of daylight for their bus journey to school in the morning.

"The adjustment for our schools, our children, our workers, matters a lot," Mr Bogollagama says.

He accepts that the Buddhist clergy, a powerful interest group, has always been unhappy with the decision to start tinkering with time.

"Our clergy finds it extremely difficult to adjust themselves because the society is different from the time zone they are believing in."

Clock fight

But not everyone is in agreement.

Science fiction guru Arthur C Clarke has spent many hours pondering the great mysteries of space and time.

Science fiction author Arthur C Clarke
We should be in line with the rest of the world
Author Arthur C Clarke
Having made Sri Lanka his home for the past 50 years, he now finds himself embroiled in a clock fight.

He has written to newspapers here saying it is foolish to return to a time zone half an hour out of step with GMT.

"We should be in line with the rest of the world," he argues. "It's very inconvenient if we're not.

"If you're trying to make international calls and you don't know quite what the time is, it's very inconvenient to you and to the person at the other end."

Asked about the points made by Buddhist monks, he responds: "Any argument bringing religion into the discussion is fallacious."

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.


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