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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Let's go metric

T. N. Ninan, writing in Business Standard, calls for a shift away from lakh and crore to thousand, million, billion and trillion. We agree! And we've moved our Indian Business Cycle page to metric.

Indian economics is easier in the metric system. GDP is Rs.55 trillion. The market capitalisation of Reliance is Rs.3.5 trillion. On a good day, Nifty as an underlying has derivatives turnover of Rs.1.5 trillion. A billion dollars is Rs.44 billion. When I was at the MoF, I had tried suggesting that the budget documents should be switched to metric, without success.


  1. Ridiculous post. I will tell you why:
    1. Has the US suffered because it uses miles and not kilometres?
    2. The number system used globally is called the Hindu Numeral system. Ever heard of the originator/invenor making a change not because of logic but because of convention (think of the UK changing its left side and other driving rules just so that others find it more convenient)?

    3. The metric system typically has larger units are 10^n times smaller units. By logic crore is not less metric than million...(to clarify I am saying this purely from logic and not any dejure classification)

    P.S.: It may have had some meaning if Dr. Ajay Shah had recommended that we use the hexadecimal number system (incidentally ancient India...specifically the Indus Valley Civilization implemented that too!).

    1. First, yes, the US loses $2 trillion (that's with a T) every year it doesn't go metric. It is completely foolish to not switch to the metric system.

      Second, the Hindu number system (known as the Arabic numeral system in the West) has to do with base-10 counting; this is regarding grouping of digits / using specific counting words for large numbers. They're entirely separate issues. And neither of them have to do with the metric system, which is a system of measurement, not of counting.

      Third, the idea is to get rid of the Indian numbering system from English, since it's not native to it anyway. It's not a proposal to get rid of it from all the other Indic languages, where it would make sense considering they have native words to count in 100,000, 10,000,000, etc. and no native words for "million", "billion", etc.

      Finally, switching to driving on the right side of the road (RHT) would save the UK [and India and any other nation that drives on the left (LHT)] millions of dollars every year at the very least. Over 75% of the world drives on the right; going against the grain here for no benefit whatsoever is incredibly expensive, as different parts have to be made for the smaller market of RHD cars. This is not to mention the amount of industrial waste and climate effects of doing this pointless exercise.

  2. Totally agree. In today's news 1.76 lakh crores, is what the 2G scam lost the exchequer. Quick, what is that in US$?

    BTW this is a numbering system, and is not considered to be part of the metric system.

  3. I dont quite agree totally with Mr Shah .... as kids, we were mentally programmed to use lakhs & crores (not millions & billions). Hence it is always easier for us to compute things in lakhs & crores (and also to make a quick sense out of it).

  4. Yes, the Americans can get away with miles and gallons, but can we?

    As part of plugging into globalisation, we should go closer to international standards. This is true of accounting standards and this is true of billion / trillion.

  5. As kids we learn how to process lakh and crore but scientific notation, moving in powers of three, is superior. And, as Ninan pointed out, we're going to be really stuck at a lakh lakh crore

  6. Dr. Ajay Shah says (with credit to Ninan) "we're going to be really stuck at a lakh lakh crore".
    This really shows ignorance of both.
    A concise way of saying lakh lakh crore (10^17) is "shankh".For more details pl visit:

  7. @ ajay shah,,,you are saying right,as indian economy is growing ,we are havin larger from that point of view its good,but at the same time,indians hav lakhs and crores set up in their would be resisting this change. But your idea is unique.

  8. @ anonymous, you can't compare the American use of the imperial system which was in fact the global standard before the implementation of the metric system, with that of the Indian usage of Lakhs and Crores, which as far as I can tell has never been adopted in a far reaching manner beyond India and perhaps its immediate geography.

    Practically speaking from a conversion standpoint, if you are converting metric into imperial, a single calculation is required for example 1KG = 2.2 pounds, and its a very easy calculation to perform and can be done very quickly. Not so when you are doing a large Rupee foreign exchange calculation.

    When you are converting a Rupee amount measured in Lakh's or crores into a foreign currency, though it is possible for Indians to do it in a single step, foreigners, and by that I mean the global investment community need to to perform two calculations, the amount as measured in millions, billions or trillions first (most people will probably have to write the figure as measured in lakhs or crores down first in order to perform that step,) and then perform the foreign currency conversion.

    It would make more sense for India to adopt a system which is in fact universal everywhere except South Asia for measuring money.

    If we were confining the discussion to distance or weight, I would probably agree with you, but we are discussing the implications in finance. We live in a globalised world, and everyone being able to compare and convert amounts quickly in this day and age is more important, than clinging to a system which was indigenously developed, and may make a lot of sense, but has never been widely adopted anywhere else.

    Imagine an Indian broker quoting an amount in crores to an institutional investor based in Hong Kong to settle a share transaction.

    So the answer to your question is if it is more convenient for the rest of the world (and ourselves), given we are talking about money, and not distance, weight or what side of the road one drives on, it would be a lot better if we did adopt the use of billions and trillions, though I will admit I find the likelihood of that actually occurring very small.

  9. Mr. Ajay Shah is recommending Indians to be copycats ... forgo self-identity in order to make money... as Indians many people don't feel shy in going beyond billions and count in trillions....but when it comes to go beyond करोड़ (crore) and count in अरब (arab), खरब (kharab) etc. they feel shy...
    I will recommend popularisation of अरब (arab), खरब (kharab) terms to do away with inconvenience.

  10. @Anon,

    Is your identity so weak, that it depends on the name we call a number? :)

    Sorry,if I went haywire, but my logical sense says, yes,we should switch,while my irrational side says, we shouldnt, because in some ways, I am proud of how we count :) Though, this "shankh" business even I didnt know.


  11. Anons,

    Tell your irrational sides that if you have a problem adopting a more universal scheme for numbers, then you should have a problem adopting any and all western technologies, science, business, etc. You should follow through by renouncing the "evil" western invention of computers and perhaps go back to Vedic Mathematics.

  12. People in villages across Tamilnadu understand lakhs and crores, million and billions would be greek and latin to them. While i understand you have words in Hindi for millions and billions , Tamil has no such substitute.

  13. "Lets change something only because some foreigners would find it easier" is no logic. To change a widespread practice having no known negative impact so far, does not appeal to me at all.

  14. The Indian & Western numbering systems (counting systems) are not related to the metric system (measurement system), but good on you! It's high time to get rid of these awkward and non-native counting words from English, though they should be kept and even taught properly (i.e., higher counting words than "crore") in Indic languages.

    In the same vein, you should also eschew the illogical MDY date format ("Month, DD, YYYY") you're using, which is only used in the US. The international date format, codified in the RFC 2822 standard, is the DMY date format ("DD Month YYYY") which seems to be how the time stamps on the comments are being shown.


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