India welcomes controversial British aid

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India is happy to accept British development aid, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said Wednesday amid a row over whether the booming Asian giant needs help from its former colonial master.

Andrew Mitchell, Britain's international development secretary, triggered a domestic furore this week when he said he intended to maintain 280 million pounds ($449 million, 332 million euros) of aid for India every year until 2015.

Indian politicians have said the country's nearly nine percent growth rate means it can cope without the British money, while critics in London say budget-slashing Britain should not be helping a country that has a space programme.

"It is certainly true if aid is not forthcoming we will not collapse," Singh told reporters in New Delhi.

But "India is still a poor country," Singh said, adding that the nation has "the capacity to make good use of development assistance".

If India is being offered "concessional developmental support, I don't see any reason why we should not... take it," he said.

Britain's decision to maintain aid to India came after Mitchell suggested last year that nuclear-armed India, which has its own space, nuclear weapons and overseas aid programmes, could be considered too wealthy to receive aid.

Britain's decision to continue aid to India comes as its Conservative-led coalition is under heavy fire at home after making deep cuts to the public sector in an attempt to rein in an 11.4 percent public deficit.

"Some people in both the UK and India have been asking whether the time has come to end British aid to India," Mitchell told the British media. "In my view we are not there yet."

Mitchell said that while India "does have a space programme, it also has more poor people than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa and the average income of an Indian citizen is only one third of that of a Chinese person.'

© 2011 AFP

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