19 Jul 2010

Poor driving in India?

News this morning that Mercedes Benz is to launch an aggressive sales drive in India to ‘capture the luxury sports car’ end of the automobile market. The announcement comes as India continues to post growth figures heading north from 8 per cent.

Last week the UN stated that 405 million people in India live in poverty more acute than anywhere else on the planet.

Britain currently spends up to £1 billion in aid in India on some of the most imaginative aid projects in the Indian Sub-Continent.

Any dispassionate review of global poverty would conclude that what is the largest commitment in the entire DFID budget is well targeted. But for how long will the UK’s own domestic population settle for funding India at a time when their own ‘aid budget’ – the benefits system – is being cut?

I currently sit on a joint FCO Indian government ‘round table’.

We diplomats, civil servants, journalists, aid specialists, and business and investment people, discuss areas of mutual interest to our several populations.

The last time we met, a few months back, we were talking about India’s incredible growth, and about the amazing pace of technological change in the country.

In the same month my post-university daughter was travelling in India and had reached the city of Varanasi. This is where many Hindus come to cremate their dead on the banks of the River Ganges.

My daughter’s emails jarred awkwardly with my comfortable discussions about growth. She described filthy streets, awful sleeping quarters and a great sense of never being able to wash the dust and filth out of her pores.

Now we hear that British aid is to be increased to Afghanistan by 40 per cent to try to help facilitate the desired speed of British military withdrawal.

I have little doubt that the money will eventually come from cuts in the UK’s Indian aid budget.

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