CANADA contributes over $5 billion every year for the international development in various programs such as poverty reduction, women empowerment, and elementary education. This year, Prime Minister Stephen Harper announced a grant of $3.5 billion specifically for improving maternal, infant and child health initiatives.
Canadian NGOs were asked to apply for project funding in July. On behalf of Vivek Canada (a local non-profit that focuses on elementary education and poverty reduction projects in rural Uttar Pradesh, India), we wanted to apply; but found out that India is not included on the list of countries of interest.
We learned that Lois Brown, Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of International Development, Christian Paradis, was to hold a round-table consultation on development issues with the local Asian community on August 12. Upon arrival, it was surprising to see that I was the only person from the Indian diaspora. I was eager to ask Lois Brown why India was not on the list of countries of interest. She replied, “I don’t know, but I will take your question to the minister.”
During the discussion, I tried to convince her with the alarming numbers: over 800 million Indians are living below the poverty line (by Indian standards and not by the United Nations bench marks). Just in the area in which Vivek Canada operates, many women and infants die each year. Brown questioned why Canadian taxpayers should help a country which is doing so well, has its own space program, and is a member of BRICS. She also brought up India’s caste system and I could not understand the correlation. I mentioned that Canadian generosity has no boundaries. For example, even though Pakistan is buying F16s with foreign aid, CIDA is still funding projects for poor in Pakistan.
Not satisfied with what had transpired, I continued my search after this meeting. Finally, I was able to get the following statement via email from Foreign Affairs, Trade and Development Canada (DFATD):
“After 55 years of bilateral programming in India totaling CDN $2.39 billion, Canada’s bilateral development assistance program came to an end in 2006 following a change in Indian government policy regarding aid.”
Now, this raises more questions. Why did India withdraw from the bilateral assistance program? Obviously, the funds were not reaching the poor and thus it was not effective to eradicate poverty in India. I thank Canadians from the bottom of my heart for their generosity but at the same time I will not hesitate to say that the Indian government of the time (2006), let down its poor by turning its back on those most vulnerable for false prestige and ego.
Furthermore, I also found out that India wanted to have unconditional foreign aid for which they didn’t want to be accountable for. It’s like taking from poor people of a rich country (Canada) and giving it to the rich (Indian politicians) of a poor nation (India) without any consequences.
The perception of India as a fast-growing economy however has seen developed countries significantly reduce their aid. On the other hand, India has recently developed its own foreign aid program called the Development Partnership Administration (DPA), with a shockingly large budget of around $15 billion to spend over the next five years to help 60 developing countries – despite the fact that India itself is still a major recipient of aid and home to some of the world’s poorest people.
In conclusion, India should tackle its poverty, education, primary health and gender-equality issues more aggressively before dreaming of a superpower status.
Harmesh Sidher is president of Vivek Canada and Co-Vice Chair, BC Council for International Cooperation.