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Mainstream, VOL L, No 19, April 28, 2012

India needs Islamic Banking for Inclusive Growth and Infrastructure Development

Monday 30 April 2012


The following is a response to Dr Ather Farouqui’s article “Islamic Banking in India at the Service of Pan-Islamists” in Mainstream (Vol L, No 11, March 3, 2012).
“Islamic Banking in India at the Service of Pan-Islamists”, an article by Dr Ather Farouqui, is timely. It has evoked interest in the community as well as the country as a whole and a serious debate on the gaps and gains of Islamic finance and banking has started. Thus it has indeed turned to be a great blessing in disguise.
The learned author has raised three pertinent questions for which convincing and correct answers have to be provided to put them in the proper perspective.
The first question is whether Islamic finance and banking is “central to the enterprise of those within the community who wish to wield power in the name of Islam and alienate Muslims from the rest of the world” or the discussion is to be related on the need and relevance of Islamic finance and banking in the post-economic melt-down era of the world in general and our great country in particular.

The second question is whether unscrupulous operators in the name of Islamic banking are being found in almost every locality where a substan-tive Muslim population exists in the country. Shylocks of the community run scandalous banking adopting dubious methods extracting the money of the poor of the community and depositing their savings in the conventional banks and gaining interest as claimed by the author.

The third point that Dr Farouqui has raised is about the various Islamic products offered by Islamic banks and whether they are better than the conventional products offered by banks and how far they are in concurrence with the teachings of Shariah.

Let us now turn to the first question.

Soon after the financial tsunami in the West, Mr Klaus Schwabb, Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, declared in 2009: “Today we have reached a tipping point, which leaves us only one choice—change or face continued decline and misery.”1

The change envisaged by Mr Klaus is the introduction of an alternative finance and banking system based on equity, justice and fairplay instead of debt financing and toxic products used in sub-prime mortgage.

Gordon Brown, the former Prime Minister of Britain, was specific when he said at the G20 meet: “It is time for a value-based market which is premised on a shared global ethics. A market with morals is possible based on demanding responsibility from all and fairness to all.”2

The Vatican offered the Islamic finance princi-ples to Western banks as a solution for the world-wide economic crisis. “The ethical principles on which Islamic finance is based may bring banks closer to their clients and to the true spirit which should mark every financial service.”3

Mr Vaidiyanathan, a Professor of Finance, Indian Institute of Management, Bangalore, com-mented: “The country should call for an alternative global financial architecture, which is built on the real economy and not on the paper economy.”4
For the real development of India we have to focus on two aspects:

1. Inclusive growth of the entire population.

2. Infrastructure development.

Even after forty years of nationalisation of the banks, 60 per cent of the people do not have access to formal banking services and only 5.2 per cent of the villages have bank branches. Marginal farmers, petty traders, landless labours, self- employed and unorganised sector enterprise, ethnic minority and women—the Aam Aadmi of the country—continue to form “the financially excluded class”.
India is prospering, but Indians are not. Twenty richest Indians earn as much as what 30 crore poorest people are earning, writes Bimal Jalan, the former RBI Governor. While the GDP growth is nearly nine per cent, the Aam Aadmi—represen-ting 860 million marginalised Indians—earns only Rs 20 per day. The system has created two sections in our society: the super rich and the super poor.
In this scenario when farmers committed suicides, the father of the Green Revolution, Dr M.S. Swaminathan, suggested that Islamic banking may be a solution to the farmers’ suicide crisis in Vidharbha. Speaking at the Karuna award function at Chennai he said: “Islamic banking may be the solution to the farmers’ suicide crisis in Vidarbha”. “Even yesterday we heard news about 30 farmers who committed suicide in Vidarbha. Islamic banking, which propagates zero interest lending, could hold the key to solving this crisis,” 5 he said.

Successful stories of the Grameen Bank system by Prof Mohammed Younus in Bangladesh provided a great boost to microfinance the world over and in India several institutions came up to help petty traders, landless labourers and women, following his example.

What is the condition of these microfinance institutions in India?
The pathetic situation of the topmost microfinance institution—SKS Finance—has been researched and recorded in a recent article of The Hindu titled Small loans add up to lethal debts6: ”More than 200 poor, debt-ridden residents of Andhra Pradesh killed themselves in late 2010, according to media reports compiled by the State Government. Incidents like a woman drank pesticide and died a day after a loan agent told her to prostitute her daughters to pay off her debt. One agent blocked a woman from bringing her young son, weak with diarrhoea, to the hospital, demanding payment first.”

Now the RBI has come out with strict guide-lines enforcing the Malegam Committee’s recom-mendations. The Andhra Pradesh Government has announced the introduction of interest-free loans for women in self-help groups, with an outlay of Rs 1400 crores from the next financial year.7

In 2005, the Planning Commission constituted a high-level committee called the Committee on Financial Sector Reforms (CFSR) under Dr Raghuram Rajan, a former Chief Economist of the IMF, which recommended interest-free finance to be introduced in the main banking sector with the objective of inclusion and growth through innovation.

“Another area that falls broadly in the ambit of financial infrastructure for inclusion is the provision of interest-free banking. Certain faiths prohibit the use of financial instruments that pay interest. The non-availability of interest-free banking products (where the return to the investor is tied to the bearing of risk, in accordance with the principles of that faith) results in some Indians, including those in the economically disadvantaged strata of society, not being able to access banking products and services due to reasons of faith. This non-availability also denies India access to substantial sources of savings from other countries in the region.
“While interest-free banking is provided in a limited manner through NBFCs and cooperatives, the Committee recommends that measures be taken to permit the delivery of interest-free finance on a larger scale, including through the banking system. This is in consonance with the objectives of inclusion and growth through innovation. The Committee believes that it would be possible, through appropriate measures, to create a framework for such products without any adverse systemic risk impact.”8

(Chapter 3: Broadening Access to Finance, page 35)

Infrastructure Development of India

INFRASTRUCTURE development is at the crossroads. “The country’s Twelfth Five-Year Plan for the period 2012-2017 targets on removing some of these roadblocks and creating a framework for private-sector participation, but it depends on the ability of India’s leaders to execute these plans, according to Standard and Poor’s”.9 In its draft for the Twelfth Five-Year Plan for 2012-2017, the government proposes to invest US $ 1 trillion to upgrade infrastructure—almost double that in the earlier Plan, which ended in March 2012.

Standard and Poor’s released another important document on October 13, 2011 entitled ‘Will Islamic Finance play a key role in funding Asia’s huge Infrastructure task?’10 which specifically mentions:

“Financing multi-billion-dollar infrastructure projects is rarely easy. But the current jittery state of the world’s lending markets is making the task of funding infra-structure developments – from power stations to railways – even harder. This issue is particularly pertinent for Asia, which is struggling to keep up with the escalating infrastructure needs of the region’s surging population amid solid economic growth. With the outlook for global lending markets still uncertain, part of the solutions for Asia may lie in finding alternatives to conventional financing. Islamic finance is one such alternative.

“Standard and Poor’s Ratings Services believes that the growing and deepening market for Islamic financing is a key reason why we think this market is worth considering for the infrastructure sector. We also believe that infrastructure projects are a logical fit for Islamic finance, which is governed by Sharia and predicated on asset-backing and shared business risk. Indeed, we believe that the asset-backing nature of Islamic financing may provide a better funding match for infrastructure projects than traditional lenders, such as banks. What’s more, sukuk investors typically have an appetite for longer tenors than bank loans, and prefer stable and predictable cash flow—traits that are typically associated with infrastructure projects.”

The prestigious international journal The Economist has brought out an Economist Intelligence Unit Report recently sponsored by Falcon and Associates which is titled: GCC trade and investment flows—The emerging market surge. The document points out that Emerging Markets will drive the global growth in the years ahead and says further: “We forecast that around two-thirds of the world’s economic growth will be generated by the emerging markets in the next five years. This means that by 2015 emerging markets are projected to account for 41 per cent of global GDP compared to an estimated 31 per cent in 2011.” 11

In the emerging markets China and India are the two countries which are focused presently by the GCC countries. China is preferred for its huge manufacturing capacity compared to India but India has an edge because its relationship is historical, as well as the cultural affinity shared by the region and there are more than six million Indians serving in the Gulf.

China for Islamic finance and banking:

a) Hong Kong has reviewed its plans for financial services. According to its Secretary for Financial Services and the Treasury, Professor K. C. Chan, it has tabled a plan at the Legislative Council (LegCo) supporting China’s National 12th Five Year Plan through the Mainland and Hong Kong by a closer Economic Partnership Arrange-ment.

He also said that to strengthen further competi-tiveness of the asset management industry, the government will, for example, enter into more comprehensive agreements for the avoidance of double taxation, and continue to develop an Islamic financial platform, modernise the Trustee Ordinance and step up overseas promotion.

Specific to Islamic finance, Chan said the government is close to finalising draft amend-ments to the relevant legislation with a view to levelling the playing field for common types of Islamic bonds and their conventional counter-parts as far as profits tax, property tax and stamp duty are concerned. The market will be consulted and it is planned that a bill will be presented to the LegCo for scrutiny in the next legislative session.12

b) Malaysian and Hong Kong banks are pre-paring to offer Islamic finance in China. Affin Holdings and Bank of East Asia expect their Islamic bank to become operational by 2012. Malaysian bank Affin Holdings Berhad and Hong Kong-based Bank of East Asia Ltd (BEA) expect their Islamic or Shariah banking operations in China to become operational by the second half of the year.13

c) The Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s (ARABACCI) Shariah Committee has endeavoured to provide pre-eminent independent value-added Shariah compliance solutions to the Greater China region’s Islamic legal, commercial, banking, finance and insurance sectors, thereby contributing to the ongoing development of the Islamic system of financial management.14

We are of the opinion that our great country India should also do the same as China to attract GCC investments by opening up the market for Islamic finance to develop infrastructure and try to perform a growth rate of 9-9.5 per cent to compete with China.

Indian Initiatives

IN Kerala, the Left Democratic Front Government under the former Finance Minister, Thomas Isaac, initiated a Rs 1000 crore Non-Banking Financial Company (NBFC), named Al Barakah Financial Services Limited, based on the Shariah principles. This NBFC was with 11 per cent share of the Kerala State Industrial Development Corporation (KSIDC), a Kerala State Government institution, along with 89 per cent share of the public, mostly from the NRIs of Kerala. This initiative was taken after conducting a feasibility report by Ernst and Young. Dr Subramanian Swamy filed a petition in the Kerala High Court arguing that it is against the secular Constitution of the country mandate contained under Article 27 which categorically says that with regard to the freedom on payment of taxes for promotion of any particular religion, no person shall be compelled to pay any taxes, the proceeds of which are specifically appro-priated in payment of expenses for the promotion or maintenance of any particular religion or religious denomination”.15 A landmark and historic judgement was pronounced by the High Court of Kerala chaired by Chief Justice L. Chelmeswar, and Justice P.R. Ramachandra Menon. The respon-dents were not only the State of Kerala, KSIDC and the newly formed Al Barakah Financial Services Ltd but also the Union of India represented by the Finance Ministry and Reserve Bank of India. The Indian Centre for Islamic Finance (ICIF) was also a respondent.

Dr Subramaniam Swamy was party in person and argued forcefully and on the other side the Advocate General of Kerala, senior advocate Nageshwara Rao and Dr Rajeev Dhavan debated the contentions of Dr Swamy and dealt with various constitutional and legal aspects, and finally Dr Swamy’s petition against the said NBFC was dismissed. The judgement also defined what Shariah is and quoted a very substantial portion from the book by H.A.R. Gibbs, the famous historian.16

The Judgement made a Significant Observation

IT is well settled that a broad and liberal spirit should inspire those who are interested with the duty of interpreting the Constitution. The comple-xity of the administration of a modern state demands a great deal of ‘play in the joints’ of the state to secure the goal of maintaining benevolent neutrality with regard to religion. To disable the state by imposing fetters on the power of the state would neither be in accordance with the settled principles of constitutional interpretation or economic health of the state. Therefore, to restrict the commercial interaction of the state even with a religious denomination, on the ground that it is inconsistent with the declaration that the state should be a ‘Secular Republic’ would be illogical having regard to the scheme of the Constitution. In our opinion, such interpretation of the Consti-tution is not warranted.17

Further the judgement endorsed the argument submitted by Dr Rajeev Dhavan that “no specific prohibition contained in any statue which makes it impermissible to carry on the Islamic banking”.18

V.R. Krishna Iyer, the doyen of the Indian judi-ciary, was forthright when he said inaugurating the International Conference on Islamic Finance: “I welcome Islamic finance in India, Islamic finance has proven successful in poverty alleviation and promoting sustainable growth in many countries, including the United States, and it is very relevant in our country where 20 million people are starving, Those who support humanism should welcome Islamic banking and finance in India.” Iyer criticised those who oppose Islamic finance on religious grounds. “The interest-free Islamic finance is a better option for countries like India. People may doubt whether this system can survive without taking interest. But I can tell you that a system that supports social development will never fail.“ 19

When the Kerala Government announced its intention to tap the investments from the Middle East region through the Islamic finance route, Prasoon S. Majumdar, Editor, Economic Affairs, of the popular weekly, The Sunday Indian, and Dean- Academics of the prestigious Indian Institute of Planning and Management, wrote under the title- ‘Let us embrace Islamic Banking’ in which he said:

“The fact is, Islamic finance can do wonders, As such culturally, the Sharia philosophy is not much departed from the Indian ethos, but more than that if India can go ahead and create provisions for Islamic funds, then the latter would find a worthy investment destination, as India has a huge investment appetite for years to come and more than that returns on investment are relatively higher when compared to other parts of the world. It is needless to state that Islamic finance pose a huge opportunity and we should be proactively thinking in provisioning the same within the country. Post-9/11, petro-dollars are actively eyeing for a safe investment destination as they have been extremely apprehensive about investing in the US. And this is the opportunity that India should avail, given the fact that as a destination its economic scenario is not just safe but vibrant. It has been reported that France has already amended its laws to issue sukuk (Islamic bond) of one billion euro. Also Indonesia has launched its dollar sukuk earlier this year, which was hugely successful. And lastly if most developed countries like UK, Japan, Singapore and Hong Kong have embraced Islamic finance and banking, then what are we waiting for?”20

The Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a leading financial and management consultant group of the world and knowledge partner of the FICCI-IBA (Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industries—Indian Banks Association) confe-rence every year, has come out with an article on ‘Islamic Banking—Can you afford to ignore it?’21 The BCG says: “What is more, Islamic banking is not just for Muslims nor is it in any way arcane or esoteric. At its core it is banking that follows a stringent set of principles, aims to be socially and ethically responsible, and embraces high transparency and shared risk. Successful marketing campaigns targeted at non- Muslims emphasise just such characteristics. Indeed some pundits have drawn an analogy between Islamic banking products and various types of cuisine that are prepared under strict faith based guidelines- but are nonetheless appealing to the general population”.

R. Seetharaman, CEO, Doha Bank, said: “I recommend considering the shariah-based banking systems and shariah-compliant products that would greatly protect the interests of entrepreneur and the banks. Equity-based finance in an ethical banking model has proved its advan-tages over interest-based lending in the region’s experience and can be considered for emulation in India also.”22
Thus it is proved that India needs Islamic finance and banking for inclusive growth of the Indians as a whole and for the infrastructure development of the country and to compete in development with China.

Bogus Islamic Banks in Muslim Areas

DR ATHER FAROUQUI strongly comments on the so-called Islamic banks operating in almost every locality where a substantial Muslim population exists. Though the learned author has alleged thrice about these unscrupulous operators in his article, there is neither any objective study presented nor any statistical data provided to substantiate his argument.

In order to provide interest-free loans to the poor and needy, several interest-free credit societies had been established throughout the country by various individuals and institutions to provide loans on pledging gold or other valu-ables by paying a small service charge. They are called Baitulmals or interest-free credit societies. Even today in the southern part of India, at least two hundred and more such societies are being operated successfully. In some of them small traders and petty shopkeepers are given interest-free loans on the guarantee of some trade asso-ciation or responsible person in the area.

Dr Ather Farooqui might be mentioning some investment companies claiming to be based on shariah that had come up mostly in north India and a few of them in the south as well. Some of them failed due to lack of professionalism and there may definitely be some black sheeps who have committed fraud and duped the investors.

In this regard two well-researched documents, one by Dr Mohammed Bagsiraj, titled “Islamic Financial Institution of India”,23 and another document by Dr Rahmatullah of the All India Council of Muslim Economic Upliftment (AICMEU), Mumbai, titled, ”IFFIs of India in Crisis”,24 should be studied to learn what actually happened to those interest-free financial institutions (IFFIs).

In the State of Kerala, when several suicide deaths took place in the 1990s, by those not able to repay small loans based on interest, a campaign was undertaken by several groups, including both religious and secular ones, and the outcome was the formation of several interest-free credit societies and investment companies. Outstanding among them was the AICL–Alternative Invest-ments and Credits Limited,25 which was inaugurated in 2000 by the then Chief Minister, A.K. Antony, and since then it is running successfully.
Islamic Products—are they viable in the modern financial world? This is the question Dr Farouqui is posing referring to Muhammed Saleem’s article “Is Islamic Banking a $300 billion deception?” Reference can be given to the presentation, “Islamic Finance Products”,26 prepared by Dr Vijay Mahajan, Chairman, Basix, and one of the members of the Dr Raghuram Rajan Committee on Financial Sector Reforms, to counter the arguments put by Saleem’s apprehensions.

Today there are international organisations like the AAOIFI (Accounting and Auditing Organisations for Islamic Finance Institutions) in Bahrain and IFSB (Islamic Finance Service Board) in Malaysia which are both recognised by the IMF and World Bank. Most of the products are standardised and performing well throughout the world. ‘World Bank considers Islamic Finance as a priority area,’ according to Ms. Muliyani Indrawati, Managing Director, World Bank.27
The IMF has also come out with several documents with respect to Islamic finance and banking. Notable among them are

a) IMF working paper “Introducing Islamic Banks into Conventional Banking Systems“ by Juan Sole.28

b) “The Effects of the Global Crisis on Islamic and Conventional Banks: A Comparative Study” by Maher Hasan and Jemma Drid. 29

Not only the IMF and World Bank, but regulatory bodies of the modern, secular and industrialised countries too have come out with documents with reference to Islamic finance and the products offered by them. For example, the FSA, Financial Services Authority, of the UK has brought out documents like ‘Islamic Finance in the UK: Regulation and Challenges’ by Ali Ravalia and others and His Majesty’s Treasury has produced ‘The development of Islamic finance in the UK’ that highlights the various steps undertaken by Britain to make the country a hub and house of Islamic finance. In the East, Singapore’s Monetary Authority of Singapore (MAS) has brought out documents like ‘Risks and Regulation of Islamic Banks: a Perspective from a Non-Islamic Juris-diction’ to accommodate Islamic finance in conventional banks. These documents have been referred casually by the learned author in his article under discussion (see reference no 11) which has to be studied in depth and detail to arrive at the right conclusion regarding the functioning and the products offered in non-OIC jurisdictions. Instead, he deals elaborately with what is happening in Pakistan and Saudi Arabia which have no relevance to a country like ours that is secular and plural in nature.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has himself announced in Kuala Lampur last year that he would ask the RBI to look into the successful model of Islamic finance in Malaysia.30

Documents of RBI

IN 2005, the RBI constituted a working group under Anand Sinha, then Executive Director, RBI, to examine “financial instruments used in Islamic banking”. The report mentions that if the banks in India are to be allowed to do Islamic banking; appropriate amendments have to be made in the Banking Regulation Act. Interestingly the report under the caption Overview of the philosophy and basic principles of Islamic Banking, mentions that in addition to non-accep-tance of interest-based transactions, the funda-mental tenet is that of fairness. It envisages ethical practices, contributions towards a more equitable distribution of income and wealth and active participation in achieving the goals and objectives of an Islamic economy.31

An article titled “Islamic Banking—Banking for a Change” by Bindu Vasu, Legal Advisor of the RBI in RBI Legal Views and News Journal concludes: “As an initiative towards introduction of Islamic banking in India a single window can be set up in some banks like State Bank of India to do Islamic Banking. This can tap the unused money lying idle that can be utilized for the economic and social benefit of the nation.” (2005/Vol 10-Issue No 2 page no 19)


THE financial tsunami of 2008 and the recent euro zone financial crisis have proved that the world needs an alternative financial system based on ethical values and socially responsible investment mechanism that calls for equity finance instead of debt finance and derivatives. As both the market and Marxist financial systems have failed to satisfy the masses throughout the world as the Occupy Wall Street movement had demonstrated, the world is looking for a viable alternative and wishes to experiment with Islamic finance which is growing at the rate of 15 per cent every year.

India needs alternative finance and banking in terms of Islamic finance and banking for inclusive growth of the marginalised and the minorities— the Aam Aadmi of the country and also for the infrastructure development to reach a growth rate of 8-10 per cent.

It is therefore urged that in our country, the Government of India—the Finance Ministry and RBI—should now re-examine its stand on Islamic finance and create an attractive environment for Islamic finance investors to participate in the market as undertaken by modern, secular and industrialised countries.

1. Klaus Schwab in his welcome address at the World Economic Forum 2009
2. Article “Islamic Finance—A Moral Compass for Banking-CSR Asia” by Jayanthi Naidu Desan.
3. The Vatican’s official newspaper L’Osservatore Romano said in an article dated March 5, 2009.
4. Article “Failure of American financial institutions is a reason to rejoice” by Prof Vaidyanathan. http://www.
5. The New Indian Express, page no.5, Chennai edition dated April 6, 2010. 005_041.shtml?Mode=1
6. Small loans add up to lethal debts. http://www.
7. Andhra Pradesh Government has announced to introduce interest-free loans. http://www. interest-free-loans-blow-mfis-010
8. Chapter 3: Broadening Access to Finance, page 35. http://planning
9. India infrastructure roadblocks to deter growth—S&P.
10. The report made by credit Analyst Allan Redimerio and Andrew Palmer, dated October 13, 2011, Standard and Poor’s.
11. Economist Intelligence Unit Report. http://graphics. Investment_ Flows_Falcon%20South_Web_22_ March_2011.pdf
12. Hong Kong Reviews Plans For Financial Services. Plans_For_Financial_Services____54402.html
14. Website of Arab Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Hongkong.
15. Page No 9, WP(C).No. 35180 of 2009(S), Kerala High Court Judgement.
16. Pages 38-40, Kerala High Court Judgment.
17. Pages No 36, Kerala High Court Judgment.
18. Pages No 55, Kerala High Court Judgement.
20. The Sunday Indian, “Let us embrace Islamic Banking”. id=8302&pageno=1
21. Boston Consulting Group—Article “Islamic Banking: Can we afford to ignore it“. mode=fi&fi=973224282.PDF
22. In a Keynote address in Doha May 26, 2008 at a Meeting of Indian finance and management professionals
23. Report: Islamic Financial Institution of India by Dr Mohammed Bagsiraj.
24. Report: Interest-free Financial Institutions of India in Crisis. Institutions_of_India_in_Crisis.htm
26. Islamic Finance Products by Dr Vijay Mahajan.
27. World Bank Declares Islamic Finance A Priority Area.
28. Introducing Islamic Banks into Conventional Banking Systems by Juan Sole.
29. “The Effects of the Global Crisis on Islamic and Conventional Banks: A Comparative Study” by Maher Hasan and Jemma Drid.
30. Economic Times–PM asks RBI to look into Malaysian Islamic banking model. http://articles.economictimes. banking-trillion
31. Report of the Working Group to Examine Financial Instruments used in Islamic Banking, page No 3.

H. Abdur Raqeeb is the General Secretary of the Indian Centre for Islamic Finance.

His e-mail is and is the ICAF website.

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