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Bengal too rich for British aid

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By AMIT ROY
  • Published 17.02.11
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London, Feb 16: The UK government today said it was making changes to its aid programme to India following popular anger that helping one of the fastest growing economies in the world is “unjustifiable”.

“From now on in India we will focus our support on three of the poorest states,” said Chris Mitchell, the international development secretary.

Bengal will be cut out for Britain considers Orissa, Madhya Pradesh and Bihar to be the poorest states.

Speaking during “International Development Questions” in the House of Commons, Mitchell was forced to respond to critics such as Tory MP Philip Davies.

“India spends 36 billion dollars a year on defence, 750 million dollars a year on a space programme, has one of the fastest growing economies in the world and is developing its own overseas aid programme,” said Davies, who represents Shipley. “Many of my constituents, given that we are having to cut public expenditure in this country, will think such aid to India is now unjustifiable.” UK aid is worth £280 million a year for four years.

Mitchell said UK aid was “in transition” and added: “Our programme will change to reflect the importance of the role of the private sector and private enterprise.”

He explained: “There are more poor people in India than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. We should focus on the poorest areas, particularly on the roles of girls and women.”

He told MPs that 60 million children had enrolled in Indian schools since 2006. “That’s a tremendous tribute to the work of the Indian government, but it would not have been possible without the intervention of British aid and support.”

Some MPs spoke up for the need to continue with the aid, among them Labour’s Barry Gardiner whose constituency of Brent North in north London has many people of Gujarati origin. He argued the help was “vital” and told the Commons a quarter of the world’s poorest people lived in India.

The children’s charity body Plan International also defended British aid to India.

“The fact that eight Indian states account for more poor people than in 26 of Africa’s poorest countries combined shows there’s a need for aid in India,” its head of advocacy Adam Short said.

“In spite of its economic successes, India is home to 421 million poor people. We work with more than a million children in the country’s least developed communities. Through our work on child welfare, education and health, we know how vitally important it is to ensure aid reaches the most marginalised children and communities.”

Marxist economist Lord Meghnad Desai could be relied upon to take a distinctive line.

In an interview to The Telegraph, Desai said: “The truth is India does not need the money but the experts at DFID (Department for International Development) are better at getting through to the health and educational sectors than the government of India.”

“It is a criticism of the government of India that it cannot manage to do in its own backyards what other people can do. It should commission DFID to do the work and pay them for it.”