British lawmakers back aid to India

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The British government is right to continue providing aid to India despite the developing nation's increasing wealth but the approach should be reassessed in 2015, lawmakers said Tuesday.

In a new report, they also called for the funding, worth £280 million ($460 million, 320 million euros) a year from 2011 to 2015, to be directed more at improving sanitation, challenging social exclusion and tackling undernutrition.

There has been heated debate in Britain about whether it should maintain aid to an increasingly prosperous India -- only the United States, China and Russia have more billionaires -- at a time when the government is cutting spending at home.

India is also funding expensive national projects such as a space programme.

But the parliamentary committee on international development noted that more than 400 million people still live on less than $1.25 a day in India, and British funds can still make a difference.

"The test of whether the UK should continue to give aid to India is whether that aid makes a distinct, value-added contribution to poverty reduction which would not otherwise happen," said committee chairman Malcolm Bruce.

"We believe most UK aid does this."

The Indian government currently invests "significant funds" in social programmes for the poor, but Bruce warned that "the poverty there is on such an extreme scale that it will take many years for India to achieve internationally agreed Millennium Development Goals."

The report defended India's space programme, saying it "delivers important socio-economic benefits including the provision of satellites, mapping, weather patterns and flooding patterns".

However, the report says that in 2015, "the development relationship must change fundamentally to one based on mutual learning and technical assistance".

Britain plans to focus its aid from now on three of the poorest states, Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Orissa, and the report said Bihar at least had made a "serious effort" to reduce corruption and ensure the money is well spent.

However, it questioned the British government's aim to deliver half the aid through the private sector in India, saying the plan was not well thought out and also risked skewing the market.

© 2011 AFP

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