The announcement of India’s Mars mission has sparked another round of tabloid-driven controversy over the wisdom of sending 280 million pounds of British aid to India every year when the country can afford such costly space programmes.
The mission to Mars was announced by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during the Independence Day speech in New Delhi on Wednesday.
Sending British aid overseas has become a sensitive issue in the context of recession, deep funding cuts and major job losses as the David Cameron government deals with a large budget deficit.
However, the budget for British aid overseas has not been reduced, prompting demands from several MPs and sections of the public to stop sending aid to increasingly prosperous countries like India.
An example of the sensation-driven tabloid reporting is a report in today’s Daily Express, which again raised the wisdom of sending aid to India, with the far-fetched headline, ‘We pay for India’s rocket to Mars’
The tabloid reported that anger had “erupted” last night after India announced plans for the Mars mission, and quoted two MPs demanding immediate end to aid for India.
The Cameron government has committed itself to sending 280 million pounds every year to India until 2015.
The Daily Express quoted ruling Conservative MP Philip Davies as saying: “This is a perfect illustration of why it is absolutely ridiculous for us to be giving nearly 300 million pounds a year in aid to India.
“If they can afford to have some high-tech mission to Mars they can afford to look after their own people without British taxpayers having to put their hands in their pockets for money they haven’t got.”
The same report quoted a spokesperson of the Department of International Development as saying that “British aid is not used to fund India’s space programme.”
But the report went on to quote Paul Nuttall, member of the European Parliament from the UK Independence Party, as saying: “It is utterly galling that our Government begs for India to accept hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money in aid. The Indians don’t want it, the Indians don’t need it.
“If India’s future is a mission to Mars, our future should be to find more suitable recipients for our aid, maybe our own people.”
International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell has said: “We won’t be in India forever, we are walking the final mile. The Indian government has made great progress on tackling poverty but there is still huge need.”