Let’s march faster towards the metric system: Subhash Chandra Agrawal


Even after half-a-century of introduction of metric measure in India, certain commodities like cloth, paper, furniture, land, time etc are being traditionally manufactured/measures in old units or their metric-converts. For example, cloth is usually manufactured in widths like 36” (91 cms), 48” (122 cms), 50” (127 cms), 54” (137 cms), 120” (305 cms) etc which should now be woven in metric-measures in multiples of 10 cms. It is time that measuring tapes may be available only in metric units after some specified date.

Likewise usual A-4 size paper-sheets should be in standard size of 30 cms x 20 cms instead of present 29.5 cms x 21 cms (34.5 cms lengthier for court-papers). Best is to introduce square form of 25 cms x 25 cms sheets instead of present practice of having rectangular paper-sheets. Such square-sheets were quite common for bank-ledgers before computerisation. Even computer-stationary used at dot-matrix printers should also have usable size (without perforation) as that of standard paper-sheets.

Urban Development Authorities in India advertise for allotment of plots of land in its various cities in non-metric measures like Square-yards, Kanal, Marla etc. Or else, metric convertibles of non-metric-measures are used, which too are against spirit of systematic metric-unit system. Union government should issue strict guidelines that only metric-measures may be adopted in land-measurements, and all agreements or registry in non-metric measure may be null and void after a specified cut-off date. Even notification should be issued to prohibit newspapers from accepting all advertisements including from builders and developers if measures of land are not in metric units.

India should take lead in taking up matter of metric-measure of time with concerned international authorities. Metric unit of time should be introduced with a complete day divided in 10 metric hours instead of present 24 hours. Each metric hour may have 100 metric minutes with a metric minute having 100 metric seconds thereby making a complete day of 100000 metric seconds instead of present 86400 seconds.

Clinical thermometers should now be available only in centigrade-units though a paper-chart showing converts of centigrade to old Fahrenheit may be compulsorily packed for some reasonable time especially for benefit of less educated people.

(Subhash Chandra Agrawal is a well-know Right to Information activist. He lives in Delhi.)

5 thoughts on “Let’s march faster towards the metric system: Subhash Chandra Agrawal”

  1. Why this sudden bout of metric extremism (or metrixtrisim :D)?

    Even in the sciences, people choose units that are most convenient to work with for a particular application. For example, in quantum mechanics, the units are usually so adjusted so that the value of Planck constant and speed of light both have value 1.

    My opinion is that units are a means, not the end. No sudden change of units should be taken up for ideological reasons: such changes should be motivated only by reasons of convenience of usage. The author does not present any evidence which suggests that metric units would be significantly more useful than the ones being used right now in the application are he suggests. In the application areas where they are most useful (volume of liquids such as oil, weight of items) and where quick conversion into sub-units is a necessity, they have already replaced the older systems. It might be counter-productive to suddenly enforce changes in things such as paper sizes which are presenting no problems as of now, and the cost of change might be much higher than any attendant benefit (though I fail to see what this could be in the case of paper, which need not be subdivided, or plots, which are also meant not to be subdivided ad infinitum).

  2. In Bangla, there is this word used exclamatorily, ‘ODBHUT’, That was my first reaction reading this (barely rendered in English as Strange). Want to ask whether there is a sequel coming to this, which will have a different take upon this? Please do it, that is, I think the only way, this thing can become fun.

  3. While following metric units may be a good idea for universal standardisation, there are certain things, as in nature, which can not be regimentalised as the author has suggested. I would like to point out two things from the above – dealing with paper sizes and time.
    A4 system of paper sizes (not sure what this system is called) is very unique. It is based on the principle that an A3 sheet is double of A4, A2 is double of A3, A1 is double of A2, and A0 is double of A1 in terms of surface area. So if you progress from A0 to A4, and on to A5, A6, etc., surface area gets exactly halved. In other words, ratio of sides in all these sheets is 1:1.414… or 1:√2. This ratio can be found in several instances in nature, and also used in other scientific disciplines where you need to double a factor in just one step (aperture openings in photographic cameras being one example). It may sound complicated, but works very simply & beautifully.
    Using metric system for paper size may lead to unforeseen complications.
    Secondly, the unit of time is based on earth’s revolution around the sun (which is easily divisible in 12 months because one circle is 360 degrees, and we have 12 equally spaced constellations called zodiac signs – and not 10 of them). The daily unit of 12 hours is based on earth’s rotation around it’s own axis, and 12 zodiac signs again which are equidistant relative to the earth, viz. 30 degrees or 2 hours as we have come to measure it. It is thus logical to divide these circles (of rotation and revolution) into 12 or 24 (months or hours) and further into 60 minutes and 60 seconds.
    I don’t see how we can divide it using a metric system.
    If it was as simple as the author has suggested, why not divide an year into 10 metric months? Would you then have 10 or 100 metric days in a month? When would a day start, and when would it end. It would have to be de-linked from the earth’s movement and everything would go just haywire.

  4. With much anticipation and expectations, after reading this first article, I asked myself “Why did you just do that ?”.

    Was it you testing how dumb I am or was it me trying to be oversmart ? No answers I have !

    Could understand nothing… for a moment I felt that I would be asked to live on a non-vegetarian diet for the rest of my life as the author in his next article would vie for it, making it a common norm for all who eat food.

    1. I think the author’s calendar mistakenly displayed the date as “April 1, 2012” rather than “January 1, 2012”. That’s the only rational explanation I can think of for the origin of this article.

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