News Wrap


India’s Supreme Court has declared that no legal sanction has been granted to the Shariat courts that dispense justice among Muslim community members. Religious decrees or fatwas are illegal if they encroach on the rights of an individual. There is no sanction of law and no legal status accorded to a Shariat court, issuing fatwas and order against a person who is not before it. The Supreme Court has maintained that no religion permits the Shariat Courts ordering punishments against innocent people. Religious courts cannot pass an order that infringes on the fundamental rights of a person or of an affected person, on a plea by a third person. The two-judge bench, headed by Justice C K Prasad has maintained that Shariat courts are not sanctioned by law and there is no loyalty of fatwas in India. ‘Darul Qaza’ cannot pass any judgement that infringes on the fundamental rights of an individual, and can only pass edicts, and only when as affected person approaches it. Verdict from the Supreme Court has drawn sharp reaction from Muslim clerics, who claim that the Indian constitution allows Muslims the right to work and act according to Muslim Personal Law. Much earlier, several Islamic scholars had pointed out that fatwas reflected opinions, and did not claim to possess any judicial sanctity. Some people misinterpreted the advisory nature of fatwas, going to the extent of approaching multiple seminaries on marital discord or inheritance disputes, and choosing the ones that suited their purpose. A fatwa on individual rights can be issued only when the person concerned seeks such an advisory.

Poor and Rich
Since the World Trade Organization Conference of Bali (2013) to the Conference of Geneva (July 2014) there has been a dispute over developing countries’ agricultural subsidies. India is sitting on a 73 million tons stockpile of rice and wheat, which is nearly twice the level to fulfil a strategic buffer stock. Extensive subsidies and incentives have enabled India to become self-sufficient in basic food. New Delhi considers its financial aid to cereal farmers as crucial for its national food security. The USA and other countries contend that the extensive assistance violates WTO rules. New Delhi periodically dumps some of its wheat surplus into international markets, which depresses global prices. US and EU farm subsidies have declined dramatically, while ‘total trade distorting support’ to farmers in developing countries such as India and China has shot up for the subsidised agricultural production in India—the Central Government provides discounted farm inputs, such as fertiliser and diesel fuel for running irrigation pumps. The state governments provide free or deeply discounted electricity, for irrigation pumps. The ‘minimum support prices’ offered by New Delhi to farmers, serve as an effective floor price, whether farmers sell to private traders, or to the FCI. Since 2007, the Food Corporation of India procured about 30% of India’s annual wheat and rice harvest. Some of the grain is resold to the poor. In each of the past few years, India has spent up to $14 billion on fertiliser subsidies, and upto $12 billion subsidising electricity for farmers. In 2013-14, the FCI paid farmers $15.2 billion more for the wheat and rice it procured, than the money it received through public distribution. The strong incentives for cultivating cereals are distorting the entire domestic Indian food market.

On the other hand, India’s wealthiest will quadruple their net worth in the next four years, with hundreds of thousands of new entrepreneurs and inheritors becoming multimillionaires. There are signs of returning business confidence in the world’s biggest democracy. Rising prices of basic food stuffs and a weakening currency, contributed to lacklustre growth in recent years. There are now nearly a sixth more Indians worth in excess of $3.75 million (2.2 million Pound), than just one year ago. India’s rich hold assets worth a trillion dollars between them, which is around a fifth of the total wealth in the country. The total is likely to reach $4 trillion (2.3 trillion Pound), within four years. Mercedes achieved a 47% increase in sales in India in 2013-14. Beginning August 2014 BMW launched a new $200,000 (265,000 Pound) sports car. The appealing infrastructure restricts demand. The most popular investments remain in real estate, mainly within India, and jewellery. At traditional weddings, presents which as silver plates, dried fruit or sweets, once sent with wedding invitations are being replaced by gifts by top western designer brands. Even though are given substantial amounts to charity, the growth of philanthropic grants, has not been proportional to overall growth in ultra high net worth individual wealth. The wide gap in incomes and wealth is an accepted norm in India. There are no social tensions with the growth in the number of rich people.

Air Crash
On 17 July 2014, Malaysia Airlines Boeing 777 carrying 298 people, flying from Amsterdam to Kualalumpur, crashed after being hit by a surface-to-air missile fired from the rebel held area between Krasni Lunch (Luhansk region) and Shakhtrask (neighbouring Donetsk region). All 298 people on board MH17 flight were killed. Rebel fighters had moved scores of bodies ‘out of respect for the families’, and loaded them on to trains, where they were kept in refrigerated carriages. The brunt of international fury was directed at Moscow, as the USA accused Russia of supplying the missile system to Ukraine rebels, used to shoot down the aircraft. Rebels who control the crash site of Malaysian flight MH17, have handed over the plane’s black boxes, and declared a localised truce to allow international experts full access to the forensic minefield in east Ukraine. Moscow has asserted that a Ukrainian anti-aircraft unit may have been responsible for the missile attack.

An anti-aircraft campaign has been mounted by rebel militias in eastern Ukraine since July 2014, whereby 14 Ukrainian military aircraft have been blown out of the sky in the Donetsk and Lugansk regions. Crucially the MH17 flight aircraft was flying at 6000 metres when it was hit. At such an altitude the plane was well beyond the range of the anti-aircraft weaponry rebel forces were known to have at their disposal. There are allegations that Russia had sent powerful rocket launchers BUK-MI surface-to-air missile units, of the type believed used for the attack, to the separatists in Torez-Snizhne areas. Counter claims from Russia point to the crash site of MH17, being within the area targeted by two Ukrainian squadrons, operating a S-200 air defence system, and three squadrons operating a BUK-MI system. Throughout 17 July, Russian aviation systems registered activity of the radar of BUK-MI system, deployed near Styz, a village south of Donetsk.

Vol. 47, No. 10, Sep 14 - 20, 2014