London: Public unease has given way to increasing fury here over giving millions of pounds in aid to an increasingly prosperous India, as the David Cameron government continues to resist pressure to stop it despite being in the throes of an economic crisis.
The clamour to stop the aid reached a new high when India last week decided to prefer the French fighter jet Rafale to the Typhoon, which is partly manufactured in Britain.
The debate was passionately renewed today with The Sunday Telegraph reporting that Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee had stated in the Rajya Sabha last August that India did not need British aid which, according to him, was “peanuts”.
India preferring France to Britain in the fighter jet deal has added public pressure to stop aid to India.
However, last night officials insisted that British aid to India was necessary and that “now is not the time to end aid to India.”
The Cameron government’s policy to continue the aid has come in for much ridicule, also because International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell had linked the continuation of aid to “seeking to sell Typhoon.”
Britain currently gives 280 million pounds annually to India, totalling 1.4 billion pounds between now and 2015.
Mukherjee’s remarks, reported to have been taken from the official transcript of the Rajya Sabha, were not reported in the UK media earlier, the newspaper said, sparking another wave of comments from people demanding an end to aid to India.
Mitchell last night defended giving the aid, saying: “Our completely revamped programme is in India’s and Britain’s national interest and is a small part of a much wider relationship between our two countries.” Mitchell told The Sunday Telegraph: “We are changing our approach in India. We will target aid at three of India’s poorest states, rather than central Government. We will invest more in the private sector, with our programme having some of the characteristics of a sovereign wealth fund. We will not be in India forever, but now is not the time to quit.”
Emma Boon, campaign director of the Tax Payers’ Alliance, said: “It is incredible that ministers have defended the aid we send to India, insisting it is vital, when now we learn that even the Indian government doesn’t want it.”
Reports about how millions of pounds were being allegedly lost to corruption in India have often made headlines in the British news media.
According to a recent report in the Daily Mail, British aid to India was being “frittered away or stolen” on projects in Madhya Pradesh and Odisha.
In a report based on a visit to projects running on British aid in India, the Daily Mail claimed that the money was not achieving the desired results, and was instead “frittered away or stolen” by corrupt people responsible for distributing it.
The report provoked fury among readers of the mass- circulated tabloid, but a spokesperson of the Department for International Development (DFID) told PTI that the report was “profoundly misleading. DFID money is not ‘frittered away or stolen’. We have a team of dedicated people checking money is spent properly and achieves results, and we only pay project bills once we have a clean audit report.”
The spokesperson added: “International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell personally ordered an investigation into use of UK funds in the education programme in the article and found no evidence that British money was misused.”
According to the spokesperson, “British aid to India works.”
Since 2005, British aid had lifted 2.3 million people out of poverty in three poor states alone and educated 1.3 million children since 2003, the spokesperson said.
“It’s not yet time to end aid to India – it is still home to a third of the world’s poor, and 400 million people live on less than USD 1.25 per day. But we have overhauled our programme to make it more targeted and focussed on results, and on developing the private sector to bring jobs and opportunities to India’s poorest areas,” the spokesperson added.