Friday, February 29, 2008

February 29th is more than just an ordinary day

Shishir Srivastava

FOR THE unfortunate few who were born on this day (February 29), it means that their next birthday would fall after a gap of four years. Try explaining this to a young kid, who sees his friends celebrate their birthday parties every year but has to wait himself for four long years to throw a big one. Hospitals all over India and the world see an increased number of children being born on February 29 than the other days of the year. Either it is Mother Nature’s way of playing around with the kids or it stands for really poor planning on the parents’ parts. Whichever way you look at it, the poor kid will continue to resent his mom for a long time to come. “Why couldn’t she just hold me for a few more hours?”

In the context of our country, February 29 will stand for more than the yearly budget. Yes, P Chidambaram has been at it and will again come up with a people’s budget so that this government stands tall in the upcoming elections next year. An addition of a day means an addition of $2.74 billion to the Indian economy. Since Mother Nature was generous enough to make this day fall on a Friday, people would be expected to go about their daily work as they normally to. Hopefully, Chidambaram will not throw up anything catastrophic with the petrol or the diesel prices, so people would still afford to go to office without burning a hole in their pockets.
The concept of leap year is itself a tricky one. It wasn’t something, which was taught in school to us. The leap year problems used to be the simplest for calculations. Just divide by four and if you don’t get a remainder, then there is a leap year. Who needs to be a PhD in Mathematics to figure that out? But throwing some light on numbers, not every year divisible with four is a leap year. 2100, 2200, 2300, 2500 are not leap years though they are divisible by four.

Well, the rule is that for all centuries or for the year ending with 00, it has to be divisible by four hundred to be regarded as a leap year. Hence, 2000, 2400 are leap years. But 2100, 2200, 2300, 2500 are not, since they are not divisible with four hundred. This is only in the case of centuries. Now if you really want to know about this strange rule, contact the people who created the Gregorian calendar. And no, you will not find their helpline numbers on the calendars sitting pretty on your desk.
A leap year has an additional day, but what does an additional day mean to us? For a year that has 365 days packed into it, what difference is a single day going to make? 1 day out of 365 days is just 0.0027 per cent. So, probably 0.0027 per cent extra income that year for employers or 0.0027 per cent increase in the gross domestic product (GDP) of every country. Not very impressive.

In India, February 29 brings a smile on the faces of all investors and economists. The Indian GDP registers its maximum growth in the first quarter that is the January-March quarter, and hence an addition of a day would imply more than a 0.0027 per cent increase in the GDP of our country in a leap year. It will not be the same for a country like the United States (US), where the economic growth is in the last quarter every year that is the October-December quarter.

Thus, whatever the advantages may be, the fact remains that this day does not come often in our lives. Just about 15 to 20 times in an average lifetime. Even at Merinews, we will see February 29 making its debut. But hopefully, there will be many more such days to come. We need to make the most of them.

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