The Bush administration has proposed an unwarranted 35 per cent cut in aid to India in its 2008 budget, raising doubts about the US commitment to transforming ties with the world's largest democracy, a key lawmaker said on Wednesday.
In a letter to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Rep. Tom Lantos, chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee, said the proposed cut "disregards the critical priorities of our Indian partners, ironically casting doubt on the administration's commitment to the goal of transformational diplomacy at the very time when sweeping progress is within our grasp."
US aid to India was $131 million in 2007, but the administration's 2008 budget request is for $81 million.
This would "effectively zero out highly successful USAID (US Agency for International Development) programs in clean energy development, water and sanitation, women's rights, and basic education," the California Democrat said.
It sends "the wrong signal at the wrong time to our Indian counterparts and inadvertently jeopardizes key elements of our increasingly multifaceted partnership with India," Lantos added, according to excerpts of the letter released by his office.
The statement noted that despite a decade of strong economic growth and a burgeoning middle class, India remains home to nearly a third of the world's poorest people, with more than 60 percent of households living without electricity, 20 percent without a safe and clean water source, and over 70 percent without adequate sanitation.
The letter to Rice, drafted by Lantos and Democrats Gary Ackerman of New York and Jim McDermott of Washington, was also signed by members of the Congressional Caucus on India and Indian Americans.
This and other issues will be discussed on Thursday at a committee hearing on foreign aid reform.