What went wrong with DST?

Published in bdnews24 on 24 March 2010

Every failed or successful policy deserves evaluation so that lessons can be learnt from the past. Since the cabinet has ended the controversial daylight savings time (DST) scheme, this piece revisits a few aspects of that plan to see what really went wrong.

Decisions and discussions surrounding the scheme seemed unaware of the essence of daylight savings changes. The decision makers were wrong in principle about how and when to implement DST. They did not even know or notify people about the specific period of DST. Rather, outrageous hints were given that the changed time would be followed indefinitely.

Many opponents on the other hand also came up with trivial reasons in condemning the scheme. One of my favourite authors even argued in a national daily that DST was introduced in the ‘developed countries’ so their citizens can have ‘amusement’ during the longer afternoons. It goes without saying that such claims could not be far from the truth.

The scheme was introduced in the non-tropical countries who observe a significant change in daytime during the summer and winter. Since the sun rises early and sets late during the summer, some non-tropical countries temporarily advance their clocks so the afternoons get more time. They revert back to original time before winter comes (see Fig 1). The principal reason behind this temporary shift was energy savings, particularly electricity. Studies (Aries and Newsham reviewed the literatures on impact of DST and published in the Journal of Energy Policy, 36 (6), June 2008) show that introduction of DST can reduce national electricity usage by 0.5 percent. While it can increase fuel usage by allowing fuel-run vehicles to operate longer hours, the overall consumption of electricity can be reduced, especially during the peak evening hours.

However, the decisions surrounding DST in Bangladesh defy every logical sense.


The major setback in Bangladesh’s DST scheme was its timing. It seems the policy makers did not even consider the practices of DST in other countries. Everywhere around the world the DST is observed only during summer, and that is why in some part of the word, it’s called “summer time”.

Countries in northern and southern hemispheres observe DST during their respective summer seasons. For instance, in the northern hemisphere, DST in USA began on March 14, 2010 and will end on November 7. In the southern hemisphere, the southern states of Australia will be observing DST from October 4, 2009 till April 4, 2010. Bangladesh, very ridiculously, introduced the DST in the middle of summer (June 19) and continued through the winter (till December 31).

Observing DST is not beneficial for every country and the benefit is determined by its geographical position and the nature of major economic activities. As the map shows, most of the countries that observe DST are non-tropical countries where days are significantly longer during the summer season. In these areas, DST is not that much of a discomfort for people who need to wake up earlier, since the sun also rises very early. Days do not get that much longer in the tropical areas, hence most tropical countries either do not observe DST or have stopped observing it (see map).


Since decisions on DST change frequently, this map (above) from Wikicommons may have some minor inconsistencies.

Bangladesh is situated at the northern border of tropical region where the Tropic of Cancer goes through the country. This means, the daytime change is visible here, but not to a greater extent. Hence, introduction of DST will cause visible discomfort as the sun does not rise as early as it does in non-tropical regions. While a little discomfort in the summer could be welcomed to address the energy crisis, DST during the winter is totally unjustifiable. Continuation of DST through the winter rather increases the overall usage of electricity when people are made to wake up before sunrise.

Countries that are far from tropical regions often go for extended DST period. Whereas few countries that observe DST while being in the tropical regions usually offer shorter DST length. For instance, in the northern hemisphere, DST in USA and Canada is observed from mid March to early November. Whereas, tropical countries like Egypt and Iran observes DST from early April to late September (see Fig 2). People’s comfort is also attached to this varied duration. For instance, Egypt in 2006 reduced its DST period by one week to keep the month of Ramadan out of the DST period.


Note: The light colour shows the expansion of daylight during summer. Calculated on the basis of forecasted sunrise/sunset time of 2010. The lines beside the countries denote their respective DST periods.

Among the DST observing countries, Egypt is almost parallel to Bangladesh horizontally. So if Bangladesh was to go for DST scheme, it would have made more sense if we followed a similar DST scheme. But instead, what Bangladesh did was a complete mockery of the DST idea. Making school kids wake up an hour early on 25 December, when the night is the longest, defies all the logic under which DST is observed around the world. No wonder people were criticising the scheme so furiously. Many even mocked the scheme as ‘digital time’. Good that the cabinet has finally put an end to this mockery.

Regrettably, it also showed us how a policy of good intention can be defeated by irrational implementation. The government has taken some encouraging initiatives in the field of information and communication technology. They must make sure that DST-like policy-bloopers do not hinder the prospects of those development programmes.

Let’s take it as an example of how not to do things.


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