Short sees funding at work in India

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The Independent Online
CLARE SHORT, the Secretary of State for International Development, flies to Delhi today for a six-day visit to inspect how her department's money is being put to use.

Under Labour, what used to be called Overseas Aid has been given a higher priority and a bigger budget, and India is a major beneficiary.

Development aid to India deserves to be controversial. For one thing, the government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee seems to be bashful about the whole subject - the ideology of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party centres on self-sufficiency.

And why should a nation rich and sophisticated enough to produce nuclear weapons and the missile systems to deliver them deserve British charity? If India is demanding a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, should not it teach its own children to read and to write?

India has, in fact,been making strides in that direction. But after 51 years as a free country, nearly half the population remains illiterate and, as illiteracy has a direct impact on population growth, it is arguably in the whole world's interest to get the poorest Indians reading and writing.

After arriving this afternoon in Delhi, a city that is rapidly making a name as one of the most lawless in Asia (six murders reported on Saturday alone), Ms Short flies to Orissa on the east coast.

Orissa is one of the six states that the Department for International Development is backing new Unicef and Indian government programmes to improve sanitation, hygiene and water supply.

A region of wild, natural beauty and chronic under-development, and where a quarter of the population aretribespeople, Orissa has recently seen an upsurge of violence between Hindu and Christian factions within tribal villages. Only last week, hundreds of Christian homes in one village were razed by a Hindu mob.

Ms Short will also visit Andra Pradesh in the south, where the department is spending pounds 46.5m on a programme to build thousands of new primary schools.

Under the leadership of the chief minister, Chandrababu Naidu, Andra Pradesh is rapidly becoming the most go-ahead state in the country: Ms Short's department is one of many international organisations, including the World Bank, pouring money into the state's coffers, to prove that Mr Naidu's mantra of education, liberalisation and globalisation does indeed work wonders. The British minister can expect a warm welcome.