Jawaharlal Nehru is the first Prime Minister of India and a central figure in Indian politics for much of the 20th century. He emerges as the paramount leader of the Indian independence movement under the tutelage of Mahatma Gandhi and rules India from its establishment as an independent nation in 1947 until his death in office in 1964. Nehru is considered to be the architect of the modern Indian nation-state: a sovereign, socialist, secular, and democratic republic. Nehru sets out to realize his vision of India. The Constitution of India is enacted in 1950, after which he embarks on an ambitious program of economic, social and political reforms. Chiefly, he oversees India’s transition from a monarchy to a republic, while nurturing a plural, multi-party democracy. In foreign policy, Nehru takes a leading role in Non-Alignment while projecting India as a regional hegemon in South Asia.

We should laud India’s successful metrication as a special case study in view of the fact that hardly 30% of the population could read or write at the time. India’s Big Bang metrication approach is so successful that many developing countries use India as a role model. Developing countries have certain special characteristics that either aid or impede metrication and set them apart from developed countries. India’s experiences with the introduction of the metric system are probably similar to the experiences of most other developing countries, which generally face special challenges in metricating their economies. A low level of education means a limited potential reach of metric education and awareness programs. A primitive infrastructure means that parts of the country tend to be both geographically and culturally isolated. In spite of all this, the metric system percolates to the most remote villages in India and subsequent to the banning of Imperial and native weights and measures, all Indians think, breathe and even dream metric day in and day out. Developing countries even have metrication advantages over many developed countries. People seldom have an emotional attachment to English units (or even metric units for that matter) in developing countries. It becomes a logical decision between two alien schemes. Developing countries generally have no cultural preferences in the areas of science and technology. They tend to take what is best from developed countries. An anti-colonial stance in many developing countries helps popularize the metric system. Many Asian cultures prefer decimals to fractions. (After all the Decimal system originated in Asia.) Low public awareness is a blessing in disguise because this pre-empts any possible resistance (as opposed to tremendous resistance in Japan). Less awareness means that people generally do as their governments tell them. The advantage in developing countries is that metrication gets underway before the industrialization process begins and when life is infinitely less complicated.

People in India use both English and native measures prior to the introduction of the metric system in India in 1956. This naturally leads to chaos and confusion. The low level of literacy does not help, and to add to the chaos, different regions of the country have different measuring schemes, or worse still, different interpretations of the same scheme. The most common native measures in India are 1 tola = 11.66 g / 1 seer = 80 tolas = 932 g / 1 maund = 40 seers = 37.29 kg before the introduction of the metric system. In 1956 the Government of India fixes the value of the seer at 0.9331 kg exactly. Similar native measures describe length and volume. Knowledge of the metric system is virtually non-existent in India prior to 1956. But one of the three railway systems in India during the British period is known as the “meter gauge railway” owing to the width of its track the British develop in the 1880s.

The Government of India enacts the Standards of Weights and Measures Act in 1956 in an attempt to bring order out of chaos and to help the nations fledgling industry exchange ideas with its trade partners more easily. The objective of this Act is to declare all non-metric measures illegal by 1960. The first step is to reform the weird currency system. The government amends the Indian Coinage Act in September 1955 to adopt a metric system of coinage. One Indian rupee consists of 16 anna. Each anna consists of 4 pice and each pice consists of 3 pies, so one rupee consists of 192 pies. This probably has something to do with British influence because currency systems in use in India prior to the advent of British rule in India are different. The Act comes into force with effective 1 April 1957. The rupee retains its value and nomenclature, but is now divided into 100 paise instead of 16 anna or 64 pice. The new decimal paisa is termed naya paisa (new paisa) till 1 June 1964 when the term naya goes away.

The government progressively introduces the metric system in various fields from 1 October 1960 when the use of metric weights in trade becomes compulsory in selected areas covering over 20% of the population of India. The government allows the use of metric weights over the entire country from 1 April 1960 becoming compulsory throughout the country from 1 April 1962. The government introduces metric measures denoting capacity at the same time. India uses metric weights by 1962 in transactions involving the purchase of raw materials or sale of products of many major industries like cotton textiles, soap, chemicals, cement, iron and steel and petroleum products. India converts all kitchen implements and cookbooks in English, Hindi and other Indian languages to metric units by the mid-1960s. The Indian railways in their commercial branches change over to metric from 1 April 1960. The customs and excise departments change over from 1 October 1960 and the posts and telegraphs department change over from 1961. Most other government departments follow suit.

Indians hold a conference in New Delhi in 1961 to discuss metrication of the education system where principals of technical colleges and institutions chalk out a program of changeover in engineering and technical education. In accordance with this announcement, the full adoption of metric system in teaching begins in the first and second year classes from the academic session of 1962-63 and in 1963-64 in the third and fourth year classes, followed by the introduction in the fifth and final year classes in 1964-65. From then on, the inch-pound scheme is taught only as supplementary to the metric system. India similarly revises school curricula and teaches all subjects predominantly using metric system. The Inch-pound scheme is largely discontinued from most educational systems in the country by the early 1970sIndia changes all road signs by the mid-1960s when there are few motor vehicles in India – fewer than half a million vehicles then against many millions later. Speedometers and odometers have to change to kilometers. Few care to remember archaic miles anymore.

Indians measure fuel efficiency in kilometers per liter and not liters per 100 kilometers. (10 kilometers per liter is reasonable for a medium-sized sedan, 20 kilometers per liter is pretty decent for a small car under 1 liter, and any vehicle that returns less than 10 kilometers per liter is a gas guzzler.) A Toyota Corolla, for example returns around 10 km/L, a tiny 0.8 L car returns around 20 km/L, while the most luxurious car sold in India today, the 6.8 L Bentley Arnage, returns just 4 km/L. It is so simple if you get used to it!

Indians measure tyre pressure in kilogram force per square centimeter (pounds per square inch only in some very old gauges) and tread sizes are in millimeters, while Indians still measure tyre rim diameters in inches as is common throughout the world.






While Indians measure road lengths in meters and kilometers, they popularly measure road widths in feet! (In our land of terrible roads, people take great pride in mentioning the fact that their street is 100 feet wide, for example, which sounds very dramatic. Sometimes a 100 foot wide road just refers to a broad street.) However official documents use meters.



Metric weather reports are most common since the 1980s. Temperature is almost always in degrees Celsius and rainfall in centimeters and millimeters. However Indians still sometimes measure body temperature in degrees Fahrenheit. (This is probably because 102 degrees Fahrenheit sounds more dramatic than 39 degrees Celsius.)

India follows the Gregorian calendar for all commercial purposes using the day-month-year format. However some Indians occasionally use native calendars for religious purposes. India is probably out of step with the rest of the world in one respect: Lakhs and crores are more commonly used than millions and billions even in the English press. One lakh is one-tenth of a million while one crore is 10 million. While Pakistan is gradually phasing out non-standard numbering systems, lakhs and crores continue to be widely used in IndiaWhile people always measure body mass in kilograms, they often measure body height in feet and inches although they increasingly use centimeters in many documents.

Almost all types of industry in India operate exclusively in metric units. However a handful of industries like the construction and the real estate industry still use both the metric and the Imperial scheme probably because of their continued reliance on designs originating in the United States. These industries will probably complete their conversion to metric when the United States does. Imperial units that are long forgotten: Ounces, gallons, miles, pounds, pints, and quarts. It is likely that people born after 1980 might not even have heard of them! India still uses some Imperial units along with metric equivalents: Inches, feet, yards (square yards for area), degrees Fahrenheit (Both metric and Imperial units are popular). Some in India still cling to the popular Imperial acre, but government documents employ hectares.





India is one of the first countries in the developing world to metricate its economy. Many countries in Asia and Africa followed India’s model. Metrication has indeed helped boost India’s exports and integrate India more easily with the world economy. The phasing out of the remaining non-metric units in India will probably accelerate when the United States (one of India’s largest trading partners) finishes metricating its economy. When the remaining non-metric countries adopt the the SI, Imperial units will slowly fade away from public consciousness and the SI will be the only language of measurement on Earth.

12 Jul 2015

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