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India has a space mission, why give it aid, ask UK lawmakers

Leading tabloids carry comments from politicians who think UK is funding India’s space programme.

world Updated: Sep 03, 2018 16:38 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
Prasun Sonwalkar
Hindustan Times, London
DFID,United Kingdom,UK aid to India
India’s India’s Polar Satellite Launch Vehicle, which carried 31 satellites, lifts off from Sriharikota in Andhra Pradesh in January.(PTI)

Britain ended traditional aid to India years ago, but continues to fund projects in some states, prompting ruling party MPs to ask: when India can finance a project to Moon, why spend money there when it is badly needed in the UK?

A favourite of the tabloid press, the story made its appearance again in the Daily Express and the Daily Mail, with headlines such as “Anger at £98m aid for India” and “We’re sponsoring their Moon launch!” over the weekend.

According to the Department for International Development (DFID), its budget for India in the current year includes £52 million and £46 million in 2019-20, to “help stimulate prosperity, generate jobs, develop skills and open up new markets for both countries”.

But the tabloids reported angry quotes from MPs, who see an equivalence between the total amount of £98 million to that earmarked by the Indian government for the Chadrayaan-2 project. They also point out that India has been a net donor in recent years, not a recipient.

“The Indians don’t want or need our money. In effect we are sponsoring an Indian Moon launch,” said David Davies, Conservative MP for Monmouth, as public services such as health in the UK continue to be hit by funding cuts.

“DFID ended traditional aid to India in 2015. The UK now provides the country with world-leading expertise and private investment which boost prosperity, create jobs and open up markets, while generating a return for the UK at the same time,” said a DFID spokeperson.

“This is firmly in our interests. Not a penny of British taxpayers’ aid money has gone on India’s space programme.”

The UK is among few countries that spend 0.7 per cent of their national income to international aid. DFID has not been subjected to swinging funding cuts that other departments have faced under Conservative governments since 2010.

Another Tory MP, Philip Davies (Shipley), added: “Here we are spending money in a country that has not only got its own space programme but is developing its own overseas aid programme. To be honest, the government needs looking at if its thinks that is an appropriate way of spending taxpayers’ money”.

“It needs to get out of Whitehall and appreciate the public is not just sick and tired of this but angry too. It is completely unjustifiable and truly idiotic,” he said.

It is difficult to explain to the British taxpayer that aid is being sent to a country that can afford its own space programme, said Andrew Bridgen, Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire.

DFID said it worked in partnership with other departments to deliver joint economic development priorities in India, and insisted that the money is an investment that will generate a return for the British taxpayer.

Britain sent aid to India for decades after independence, at times linking it to major commercial and defence deals with New Delhi, as reflected in classified documents released by National Archives, particularly those related to the prime ministership of Margaret Thatcher.

First Published: Sep 03, 2018 15:51 IST