Editorial: Aid to India still has its place

This week, charities working with the poor in three of the most deprived states of India, mainly on elementary education and health projects, will be discussing how best to close down their operations in record time. This follows Justine Greening's decision, announced last Friday, to cut off all financial aid to India by an earlier-than-expected deadline of 2015.

If the time frame for winding up is shorter than most people had anticipated, the thrust of the Development Secretary's ruling was not unexpected. Aid to India has been a toxic topic ever since Pranab Mukherjee, now President, then Finance Minister, last year described Britain's annual-aid contribution to his country of £280m as "a peanut".

The fact that India has chosen to buy French jets over British Typhoons is another factor that has got under the skin of Tory MPs, convincing many of them that our aid is not winning us the degree of influence we deserve.

Perhaps nothing could have saved the aid line to India under those circumstances. But it seems little short of tragic that deserving projects are about to be axed in a country where several hundred million people still live in the direst poverty largely because the Indian government now considers the receipt of aid as beneath its dignity. The claim of many Tory MPs that Britain was wasting aid on India that should have gone to the poor in the UK also has a false ring to it, when one recalls that these are often the same MPs who have been clamouring for cuts to the welfare bill in Britain.

It is correct that trade rather than aid is the engine of growth in the developing world, and it is undeniable that aid, or rather the profligate and thoughtless use of aid, has in some instances fed corruption among elites, distorted local economies, and created an unhealthy culture of dependence.

At the same time, we need to remember that when it is intelligently and selectively targeted, aid has helped to empower and educate communities, minority groups especially, and to relieve immediate suffering.

In future, it is to be hoped that the sequence of events that has led to the abrupt termination of aid to India is not repeated. We should not allow prickly governments to decide whether their own poorest citizens deserve our help, however "peanut-sized" they consider that help to be. Nor should matters such as sales of jets enter into the equation.