Updated: 12:41 EDT, 28 April 2011>
Britain gave £45m (which we haven't got) to India (which is spending £1bn on aircraft carriers sending a probe to Mars) for a scheme that planted this biofuel crop (which is poisoning their children, using up valuable grazing land and can't actually be used as biofuel). In this powerful dispatch, David Rose holds to account the sacred cow that is our £7.8bn foreign aid budget
A field of jatropha, which in other parts of the world is used to produce biofuels. However here 'the stuff is a menace. The wood is useless. Cattle can't eat it because it's highly poisonous,' said villager Ram Das
Within living memory, the Satpura hills in the southwest corner of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh were a kind of paradise. In the shade cast by teak forests, antelope roamed, together with deer and the occasional leopard, as well as abundant rabbits.
In summer, the intense, sweet scent of the trees’ white flowers filled the air, while pools and streams were full to the brim with fish and freshwater crabs. The local Adivasi tribespeople did not have much money, says Ram Das, a man in his sixties from the village of Chiklia, ‘but times were good and our diet was rich’.
Today the hills above Chiklia and the landscape for miles around are bare. The teak has gone to make construction beams and furniture. The climate has turned arid. The streams have dried up and in the long dry months from November to May the land supports little vegetation.
However, since the beginning of 2008, there has been a change. Thanks to a £45 million programme financed by British taxpayers via the Department For International Development (DFID), the villagers have covered thousands of acres with jatropha, a strange, pale-stemmed plant with livid green-and-yellow leaves, native to Central America. In other districts, the programme budget has also sponsored the cultivation of bamboo and the development of solar-powered lighting, but DFID workers promised the Adivasi that the jatropha would make them richer, because it could be turned into biodiesel. They were wrong.
‘This stuff is a menace,’ Ram Das says. ‘The wood is useless. Cattle can’t eat it because it’s highly poisonous, and that means that after the monsoon, when these hills turn green, we have to keep our animals away from what used to be good grazing. The plants also spread very fast. The wind blows the seed pods and it creeps into our wheat fields.’
Conditions inside a mother-and-baby ward at Barwani hospital
On the day of my visit to Chiklia, the local Hindi newspaper reports a case from a neighbouring district where 50 children have been hospitalised with violent vomiting because they ate jatropha fruit, which looks like a sweet or a coffee bean. There have been several cases in Chiklia, too.
‘To recover requires at least a week in hospital,’ Ram Das says.
He is sitting with his friends, close by the Chiklia mission church. Do they know of anyone who has ever sold any jatropha?
‘You city people!’ one man says. ‘You know nothing about life here or you wouldn’t ask a silly question like that.’
The others laugh. Unfortunately, the promised biodiesel industry has not materialised because the soil is too dry to permit cultivation of jatropha on a scale large enough to make it viable.
DFID now seems to find its sponsorship of jatropha embarrassing. Last year, Michael Anderson, then DFID’s India head, told a Delhi magazine: ‘We are definitely not pushing for jatropha,’ claiming that DFID had never been involved in any scheme to encourage it. A DFID official assures me that planting of the toxic shrub has been on a very small scale, and that it has only been used to mark boundaries between fields.
These assertions are not borne out by the facts. Rather, jatropha cultivation has been heavily pushed by DFID’s Madhya Pradesh Rural Livelihoods Project, which, like almost everything DFID does in India, is managed on the ground by a contracted consultancy firm, Reading-based Coffey International Development. In May 2008, a DFID Vision Document said the project had earmarked 2.5 million acres of land in the tribal areas of Madhya Pradesh for jatropha. Another report in 2009 said 63,000 shrubs were already flourishing.
In Chiklia, and in the other villages along its rocky valley, the jatropha sprouts in giant plantations, rooted in pits 2ft deep, which were dug by the villagers in neat, regular rows – more than 10,000 pits in Chiklia alone.
'Most Indians think of ourselves as aid donors, not recipients. So when the news broke that the issue of foreign aid spending was causing a row in Britain, we were mostly amused'
‘The idea is to provide extra income in the event of crop failures,’ says Duncan King, the project’s senior manager. He says jatropha is democratic: it has only been planted in places where the gram sabha, the village assembly, has voted for it. ‘This project is all about strengthening poor people’s voices.’
Jatropha, he claims, has never been allowed to encroach on grazing land.
In Chiklia, the richest family is that of Mana Patel, the sarpanch or village mayor, who lives in an airy concrete house with fans and tiled floors.
‘The people from the project made so many promises,’ he says. ‘They said we would make good money from growing it, but it has not borne fruit.’
Did the gram sabha take a vote?
‘No. It did not meet. I took the decision on behalf of the village and I regret it. They did not give us any real information, just a series of vague hopes. After we planted it, the project people never came back.’
In Bhopal, the state capital of Madhya Pradesh, King’s boss is Lalit Belwal, who is on secondment as the project co-ordinator. ‘The fact is, earlier there was hope that jatropha would be used for biofuel.’ He shrugs.
‘Now it’s accepted that this is not an easy task.’
These days, he says, the emphasis is on planting gooseberries instead.
‘Very few people even know that Britain is still giving aid to India, and those that do are surprised it is continuing,’ Chandan Mitra tells me in Delhi.
He sits as a member of the upper house of Parliament for Madhya Pradesh, and is a national spokesman for the main opposition party, the Conservative BJP.
‘Most Indians think of ourselves as aid donors, not recipients. So when the news broke that the issue of foreign aid spending was causing a row in Britain, we were mostly amused, because in Indian terms, the amount you give is too small to make a real difference. We don’t want to sound ungracious. But India could do without it. That pretty much sums up our attitude: indifference.’
WHERE BRITISH AID IS BEING SENT: Financing grassroots organisations that help the poorest communities access assistance; a 13-year-old Dalit girl, pictured beside her mother, was raped by four young men from a different caste
While Britain struggles to emerge from recession and makes public spending cuts, India is booming. In a broad swathe of the country from Chennai in the south to Mumbai, Bangalore, Gujarat, Delhi and the Punjab in the north, sheer entrepreneurial energy seems to surge through the streets. There are gleaming hotels the equal of any in London, hi-tech science and business parks and a plethora of shopping malls.
Over the past four years, India’s revenue from income tax has grown by a staggering 25 per cent each year. Having been growing at an annual rate of nine per cent, GDP is set to quadruple by 2030.
India is the world’s largest importer of weaponry. While Britain debates the future of our planned new aircraft carriers, India’s Cochin shipyard is steaming ahead with its building of two Vikrant-class vessels capable of carrying 40 aircraft each, at a cost in excess of £1 billion.
The Indian Space Research Organisation is soon to send its first probe to Mars, and by 2015 the country hopes to become only the fourth to launch its own manned spacecraft. India is also a large aid donor itself, with programmes in 40 countries worth, last year, about £320 million.
Despite all this, Andrew Mitchell, the UK’s International Development Secretary, pledged in February to give India £280 million every year until 2015. DFID is the only Government department whose budget is not merely ring-fenced but increasing.
But as he unveiled an official review of UK aid, Mitchell offered just one argument to justify the huge spend in India. He said that because its development has so far been uneven, its three most deprived states – Orissa, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh – contain more people below the poverty line than all sub-Saharan Africa and, henceforth, UK aid would be ‘tightly focused’ on the poorest in those states. He also said that half of this sum would be spent on the private sector, although he has since repeatedly failed to specify what this would mean.
Mitchell’s announcement triggered a political furore. But in the debate that followed, there was no real description of what DFID actually does in India, let alone an assessment of whether UK aid makes a beneficial impact.
It’s not that the money is being stolen or being taken by corrupt officials, but there are questions over whether the spending on some projects is worthwhile or whether they couldn’t be carried out by Indians themselves.
DFID’s own publications offer few clues. Its website lists each project that Britain funds and the sums allotted, but gives no details. So the only way to find out is to go to India and look, not in DFID’s air-conditioned New Delhi headquarters, where all but three of its 103 India staff are based, but in the hinterland of crowded cities and the vast countryside.
To pierce the surface of DFID’s jargon-laden reports, with their ‘benchmarking exercises’ and ‘pro-poor private-public partnerships’, you have to get down to slum and village level and grasp the realities of Indian life.
Only then does it become clear that some of DFID’s aid is far from ‘tightly focused’. Instead, it has little visible impact on the poor, and is poorly policed. Sadly for Mitchell’s altruistic intentions, many influential Indians say it is not really needed at all. And as I discovered during my two-week journey across India – in some cases, it actually appears to be making matters worse. Take, for example...
MADHYA PRADESH HEALTH SECTOR SUPPORT
Cost £103 million
Stated purpose To provide ‘increased use of quality health, nutrition and sanitation services by the poor’. DFID claims it has doubled the proportion of women who give birth in hospital with the Janani Express ambulance service, a fleet of 600 vans. Through a new ‘public-private partnership’, DFID says its programme is rapidly improving treatment and care. It was singled out for praise in DFID’s recent aid review.
Four hours’ drive from the nearest airport at Indore, a humming, ‘new India’ metropolis with five-star hotels and modern steel and pharmaceutical plants, I visit Barwani District Hospital. My guide is Madhuri Krishnaswammy, who campaigns for the poor of Madhya Pradesh.
Inside the hospital, the stench and filth strike one with the force of a physical blow. In an infant-and- toddler ward, I watch as rats and mice scamper in and out of the bedside cabinets. The mother-and-baby unit is worse: black grime coats the walls, windows and ceiling, where bare wires hang from the remains of what was once a fan; cigarette butts litter the floor; some of the beds have no sheets and those that do are grey. In two visits totalling several hours, I do not see a single nurse or doctor enter any of the wards.
At the end of last year, it emerged that nine women had died in childbirth at Barwani hospital in a single month, November 2010. Two separate medical inquiries concluded that these deaths were avoidable, together with those of a further 16 women who had perished in the Barwani maternity wards in the preceding seven months.
One of the reports, by three national Indian health organisations, also unearthed cases of a further 47 women who arrived at the hospital in a desperate condition but were turned away, ‘referred elsewhere’, usually to Indore, about 80 miles away. Many of these women also died. Overall, the ratio of confirmed maternal deaths to deliveries at Barwani is about 150 times the UK average.
The reports reveal a consistent picture of neglect and sheer extortion – and the DFID-sponsored public-private partnership has only made things worse.
For example, Vyapari Bai, 22, arrived at Barwani hospital on November 27, suffering from the potentially lethal pre-eclampsia. In India, as in the UK, this should be treated by emergency Caesarean, for which the hospital is fully equipped. But although Vyapari started having convulsions, she was seen by a doctor only twice in three days, and no attempt was made to deliver her baby.
Both Vyapari’s mother and her mother-in-law were health workers, who knew the danger she was in. Despite their pleas, none of the four obstetricians assigned to the hospital examined her. At 3am on November 29 her family went to one of the doctors’ homes, begging her to come to the hospital because Vyapari was in agony. She refused. Two hours later, 40 hours after reaching hospital, Vyapari died.
The inquiries into her passing record a curious detail. Soon after arriving at Barwani, she was sent by auto-rickshaw to a private centre where she had to pay cash to have an ultrasound scan. This experience – of a poor person being asked for money at a Madhya Pradesh public hospital – was far from unique. For example, Durga Bai, 32, was admitted on December 26. She had started her labour at a local clinic, but her baby was in the breach position, and its head had got stuck. Durga’s life was in peril.
Barwani is supposed to have a blood bank, but it sent Durga to a private supplier, who demanded 1,600 rupees (about £25) in cash – equal to three weeks’ of the family’s income – for one unit of blood. To pay for this, according to the doctors’ report, ‘Durga Bai’s mother pawned off her traditional silver necklace’. All this took a long time: ‘After receiving only a couple of drops of blood, Durga Bai passed away.’
The shocking thing is that these horrors – the filth on the wards and the deaths of these women – are directly linked to DFID’s vaunted reforms.
According to Rajesh Singh in Bhopal, who leads the DFID team of consultants managing the healthcare programme, its big breakthrough has been to find a way to overcome the public health system’s chronic shortages of doctors and nurses. The solution: to get patients ‘referred’ from public to private health facilities, which have the extra resources to fill the gap.
But how can poor expectant mothers cope with private medical fees?
The DFID programme’s answer is the deen dayal, a special card that can be used to pay for private-sector treatment. Every family officially designated as being below the poverty line is supposed to be given one, with an annual spending limit of £415.
‘All our efforts are towards the poor, those who have previously been left out,’ says Singh.
Krishnaswammy says that, in reality, the encroachment of the private sector has caused the quality of public hospitals to plummet, while poor families are being fleeced for cash even in public hospitals. And if they have to go private, they will be left with bills so large they will be ruined.
Meanwhile, corruption permeates the system. Outside Barwani District Hospital is a row of shops with 14 private chemists. Many of their wares, Krishnaswammy says, have been sold from what should have been the hospital’s public stock.
Hence, on a children’s ward, where most of the 75 patients are being treated for simple, yet potentially life-threatening diarrhoea, their parents have had to go to the chemists to buy intravenous drips and antibiotics.
Poor families are supposed to get free private treatment and drugs with a deen dayal card. But most of the poor in Madhya Pradesh simply do not possess them. To get a card, you first need another document that officially deems you ‘BPL’ – below the poverty line. There are fixed annual quotas for this, and decisions as to who gets the crucial designation are made by local officials – many of whom are corrupt.
‘We’re very poor and should be eligible,’ says Sumita from Rasgaon, both of whose young children are on private sector drips.
‘But it never happens. The paperwork never gets done. You have to pay bribes or the functionaries don’t like you.’
In the filthy maternity wards, the position is the same. Ukma Bai, from a poor, landless family, has had to have a Caesarean, for which her family has so far paid 4,000 rupees (£56). For them, it’s a huge sum, and they have neither BPL papers nor deen dayal cards. Ramesh and Rukma Solanki tell me that though their child is healthy, the only way they have been able to pay for Rukma’s treatment is by borrowing money from a rich landlord in their village, who charges them interest of five per cent a month.
The next day I travel to Bisakheri, a village 100 miles northeast. With me is Arsif Shaikh, head of Jansahas, a charity that works with Dalits, the low-caste Hindus still widely regarded as ‘untouchable’. Some work for a pittance as casual labourers but others are effectively slaves: ‘bonded labourers’ working for nothing to pay off debts so large they will be handed down the generations. DFID’s health ‘reforms’ are now intensifying the depth of their bondage.
All the 70 Dalit families in Bisakheri should be entitled to BPL papers and deen dayal cards, but only eight actually have them.
One who hasn’t is Lal Singh, 22, who has been working as a bonded labourer since he was eight. Last year his wife Rani gave birth at the local public hospital, but there were complications, and she was referred to a private clinic. Told her treatment would cost about £700, the only way Lal could save her life was by getting a loan shark to come to the hospital and put down a £250 deposit, and then to pay the rest when she was discharged.
‘That will mean my children and their children will also be bonded labourers,’ says Lal.
Corruption in the state’s health system starts at the top. In 2007, just as DFID’s programme was getting under way, Dr Yogiraj Sharma, the director of Public Health and Family Welfare, was suspended after investigators found he had more than 30 bank accounts with deposits worth £4.6 million.
He successfully challenged his suspension in court. Last year Tinu Joshi, the official in charge of child and maternal welfare, was also suspended. As well as huge amounts of cash, she and her husband, also a senior official, had acquired a property portfolio, their combined assets worth £50 million.
In Madhya Pradesh, commented The Indian Express, ‘health is wealth’. So much for British taxpayers’ money helping the poor.
WHERE BRITISH AID IS BEING SENT: Assistance to the urban poor; this is a typical slum in Bhopal, capital of Madhya Pradesh
MADHYA PRADESH URBAN SERVICES FOR THE POOR PROGRAMME
Cost £44.5 million
Stated purpose To ‘strengthen pro-poor governance’ to provide ‘affordable and sustainable access to quality services for the urban poor’.
Madhya Pradesh has more than 2,000 slums. These stinking, disease-ridden shanty towns lack sanitation, paved roads and drinking water. Although the programme has improved conditions in a small number of these slums, half of its budget is not spent directly on the poor at all, but on municipal administration.
Working through outsourced consultants, DFID has been conducting new property surveys to increase local taxes, and teaching officials how to use email. When I meet the consultants – who insist on not being named – they save their proudest achievement until last: the installation of GPS tracking systems in rubbish trucks. This, they explain, enables managers to ensure they use the most efficient routes, so saving fuel.
A few days later in Bihar, another DFID consultant demonstrates another triumph: reform of the vehicle registration system, to enhance revenue from tax discs. Useful as such improvements may be, it’s not obvious why they required UK taxpayers’ intervention.
SARVA SHIKSHA ABHIYAN (SSA), A NATIONAL INDIAN GOVERNMENT SCHEME AND THE BIGGEST DFID PROJECT
Cost Since 2008, £180 million
A further £115 million by 2013
Stated purpose ‘In India, DFID support has helped an additional 60 million children into school,’ it states in its last annual report.
An additional 60 million children have indeed enrolled in schools over the past ten years, but Dalit human rights groups assert there is no programme more notorious for reinforcing caste discrimination.
School dropout rates among the poorest of the poor, the Dalits, are far higher than upper-caste children, at around 80 per cent. Caste discrimination is upheld by terror, with sporadic murders and gang rapes of Dalit children.
In Bisakheri, as is common throughout India, these children are forced to eat off separate plates and are yelled at by teachers if they inadvertently touch the salt on the dining tables. But there at least they do get taught. I spent a day in the lush, green flatlands south of the Ganges, in Bihar. In the village of Adpa, local Dalit campaigner Pratima Kumari says the teachers usually fail to show up at school at all.
WHERE BRITISH AID IS BEING SENT: Schools, to help get an additional 60 million Indian children into education; this Dalit school in Bihar has just one teacher and the building is incomplete
‘The kids go to school to get their midday meal. They get nothing else.’
The programme supported by DFID may have ‘helped’ these children register, but that doesn’t mean they will get educated.
In the Dalit section of nearby Dariapur, across the fields from the big, solidly built high-caste school, Ajay Singh, a lone teacher, struggles to interest 45 children, aged between six and 11. They sit cross-legged in the dust in an open shed, with a third of its roof missing.
‘There are 110 children enrolled here, but normally only about 40 attend,’ he says.
There are no chairs, no blackboards and no desks. DFID has announced a scholarship programme for Dalit girls, but until last year it had a formal policy that committed it to trying to fight caste discrimination, asserting that caste is a ‘structural’ economic factor that keeps millions in poverty. That broader policy has now been scrapped, along with regular meetings between DFID officials and national Dalit leaders.
‘We have had no engagement with them for a year,’ says Paul Divakar, general secretary of the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights.
‘Caste is a critical factor in Indian society, but they seem to be ignoring it, and if you do that, you will never make your programmes effective.’
POOREST AREAS CIVIL SOCIETY PROGRAMME
Cost £500,000 a year
Stated purpose To work with grassroots organisations in India’s poorest districts to help Dalit and tribal community groups become more organised, and so demand access to basic amenities.
In 2009, DFID invited groups to apply for this funding. Some, faced with the complex application process, borrowed heavily to pay for lawyers and accountants. But although DFID announced its selection 18 months ago, not a penny has been handed over. The Indian government has insisted on vetting every individual grant: an extremely slow process. Meanwhile, thousands in the red, the Dalit groups have been left with nothing.
WHERE BRITISH AID IS BEING SENT: Projects designed to eradicate power theft; slum dwellers in Bhopal try to find a connection for their illegal electricity line among a maze of wires
MADHYA PRADESH POWER SECTOR REFORM PROJECT
Cost £5.5 million
Stated purpose To cut down power theft, maximise revenue, and so prepare the industry for partial privatisation, according to Kameswara Rao, a consultant from PricewaterhouseCoopers in Bhopal.
This sounds like a reasonable goal, albeit that electricity bills have risen by 25 per cent since the project started. But Rao is an Indian, working for the Indian branch of a multinational firm in order to make an Indian industry more profitable. Why should UK taxpayers pay for it? And why should DFID be involved at all when the Madhya Pradesh government could easily hire PWC itself?
When I put these points to Rao he looks uncomfortable. ‘It’s an individual choice,’ he says. ‘I mean, I could earn twice as much by emigrating to California but I choose to stay here. I appreciate that at a time of recession, British people might ask hard questions. But the essence of aid is to help people do the things they need.’
Later I ask Rahul Noronha, the Bhopal correspondent for The Hindustan Times, if this is really helping the poor?
‘You could argue that by raising prices PWC’s advice actually harms them,’ he says. ‘What you’re really doing is generating jobs for bright young Indian boys and girls who’ve been to business school.’
That a government, British or otherwise, should be prepared to add to its overdraft to help the world’s poor, is laudable. The question remains, however, do DFID’s drops in the ocean of Indian spending make a significant difference? Do Indians still want them? And is there anything that DFID and its consultants do that could not be organised by Indian institutions themselves?
I find some answers in Bihar, a state of around 96 million people, 90 per cent of whom live in the countryside. For years, it was a byword for corruption and crime, but in 2006 everything started to change with the election of reforming chief minister, Nitish Kumar.
‘In our first term, we extended the rule of law,’ Kumar tells me in Patna. ‘This time we are addressing women’s empowerment, social exclusion and zero tolerance for corruption. I always talk about growth with justice, not just growth.’
Kumar means what he says. Having introduced sweeping reforms to the legal system, his government has put 60,000 new prisoners behind bars, some of them former officials. A new law forces all government servants to disclose their assets, and if they can’t prove they were honestly acquired, they will be confiscated. He has established a Dalit Mission, funding 200,000 scholarships a year for Dalits in secondary and higher education, and a new legal body to prosecute the perpetrators of Dalit rapes and murders.
Kumar has also invested in infrastructure, building 12,000 miles of paved rural roads since 2006. Albeit from a low base, Bihar’s growth rate – 11 per cent – is now the second-highest in India.
And what has been DFID’s contribution? Very little. Until 2008, DFID did nothing in Bihar at all. It still has no involvement in Kumar’s programmes for the Dalits. Bihar’s annual budget for development of all kinds, paid for by state and national taxes, is £3 billion. DFID’s total contribution is just £30 million.
DFID likes to talk about ‘leading by example,’ ‘trickle down,’ and ‘spreading best practice’. No doubt those bright young consultants do come up with good ideas. But, according to Ravi Parma, the official in charge of Bihar’s Dalit projects, ‘The government is perfectly capable of hiring any consultants it likes.’
At a national level, the reception of UK aid looks shaky. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has said he wants it to continue. But last September, a leaked letter from foreign secretary Nirupama Rao urged the government to tell DFID it should cease all activities by March 2011.
Kumar is more tactful.
‘The amount may be very little, but the sentiment you show by your concern is important. But the truth is that if DFID were not here, we’d still be doing all this.’
Thanks to Richard Whittell, co-author of ‘Dodgy Development’, £5, corporatewatch.org
'What we're doing in India is making an extraordinary contribution to the flight path out of poverty,' said Andrew Mitchell
Interviewed by Live, the International Development Secretary, Andrew Mitchell, insisted that although India's economy was making 'tremendous strides,' now was not the time to end UK aid. He said he was unaware that so many mothers had died at Barwani, but he refused to accept that there might be anything wrong with the way the Madhya Pradesh health programme operated.
'I've seen good examples of how that scheme is working,' he said. 'No doubt there are bad examples, but the whole of the programme is designed to try to improve things.'
When Live suggested that one reason for DFID's lack of impact might be that almost all DFID's India staff were based in New Delhi, and so might find it hard to monitor what was really happening in such a vast country, Mitchell said: 'I think you do a colossal disservice to my officials.'
Asked why DFID spent so much on private Indian consultants that India could hire for itself, he said: 'British taxpayer involvement has a huge demonstration effect...us hiring the Indian expertise that you describe in a multinational firm is enormously valuable.'
In future, he said, a new independent commission, answerable to Parliament, would ensure UK taxpayers' money was well spent: 'Not everything is always as good as it should be, but by and large we are extremely good at this stuff, and what we're doing in India is making an extraordinary contribution to the flight path out of poverty. India has lifted hundreds of millions of its citizens out of poverty in recent years and part of that story is the very strong support of the British development programme.'
Source : http://www.dailymail.co.uk/home/moslive/article-1378951/Indias-economy-booming-UK-sending-millions-pounds-aid.html
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