India says no to Dutch development aid
The Indian government has indicated that it no longer wishes to receive
direct development assistance from 14 small countries.
In the future it will only accept bilateral aid from big countries
including Japan, England, the US, the EU and Russia. The Dutch minister for
development cooperation, Agnes van Ardenne, has welcomed the move, and
invited the Indian government to take over the programmes that are still
running. What does the end of over forty years of development assistance
mean? Professor Arie Kuyvenhoven of the Development Economics group at
Wageningen University gives his view of the matter.
“The move is not only symbolic. I think that India is giving a very clear
signal that it wants to streamline its international relations. Small
countries are of less importance, and the fact that Dutch assistance is
worth more than that of the United States and other donor countries is
neither here nor there. However you look at it, the amount that the
Netherlands gives is very small in relation to the total investment
requirements of India. The Dutch development assistance budget for India is
€ 71 million for 2003. Compared with the size of the Indian population and
budget this is just a drop in the ocean. But more to the point, I don’t
think that this move necessarily means the end of projects carried out by
the co-financing organisations, many of which are directly aimed at poverty
alleviation. These continue outside the sphere of government doings.
The most important signal that India appears to be giving is that it is no
longer prepared to discuss the conditions of development aid with each
individual country. You can also read into it that the Indian government
would prefer to negotiate with Brussels. For the Dutch development world
this probably comes as a shock, after all we have been used to playing a
sort of pioneering role in the field.
I suspect that the Indian request is also motivated by pride. India has
never really liked having to be in a position to ask for help. Even before
the Green Revolution, in the 1960s when India was not yet self sufficient
in food and suffered from famines, there was great reluctance to ask for
food assistance. In his memoirs, the economist and former US ambassador to
India, John Kenneth Galbraith describes the efforts the Americans went to
to offer assistance without denting the pride of the Indian government.
India is now very clearly choosing a similar approach to that adopted by
China. It is a big country, with a big culture, and it is capable of
standing on its own two feet. What a small country like the Netherlands
thinks about this is not particularly relevant.
I can also imagine that the Indian move is actually quite convenient for
Van Ardenne [Dutch minister of development cooperation]. The new Dutch
cabinet is going all out for budget cuts, and development cooperation has
less to spend. Van Ardenne’s offer to speed up the handing over of the
Dutch programmes in India, instead of bringing them slowly to a close, must
be seen in this context.
Of course all these developments do not mean that India no longer has any
problems. It is still the country with the most underfed people. Although
India as a whole is self sufficient in food, a large proportion of the
population is too poor to be able to feed itself. The fact that India is
now clearly taking responsibility for this itself should be praised.