The UK is to end financial aid to India by 2015, international development secretary, Justine Greening, has said.
British Broadcasting Corporation reports that support worth about £200m ($319m) will be phased out between now and 2015 and the UK’s focus will then shift to offering technical assistance.
Greening said the move, which will be popular with Tory MPs, reflected India’s economic progress and status.
Giving his reaction, India’s foreign minister Salman Khurshid said: “Aid is the past and trade is the future.”
But charities described the move as “premature” and warned it would be the poorest who suffered.
Until last year, when it was overtaken by Ethiopia, India was the biggest recipient of bilateral aid from the UK, receiving an average of £227m a year in direct financial support over the past three years.
But the UK’s support for India, one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, has been a cause of concern among Conservative MPs, many of whom believed that the UK should not be giving money to a country which has a multi-million pound space programme.
Ministers have defended the level of financial help in the past on the basis of the extreme poverty that remains in rural areas and historical colonial ties between the two countries.
Ms Greening has been conducting a review of all financial aid budgets since taking over the role in September and visited India earlier in the week to discuss existing arrangements.
She said the visit confirmed the “tremendous progress” that India was making and reinforced her view that the basis of the UK’s support needed to shift from direct aid to technical assistance in future.
The announcement that the UK is scrapping aid to India has been long expected and will not have come as a surprise to the Indian government.
UK International Development Secretary Justine Greening was in India early this week to meet senior Indian government officials who were briefed on the move.
India has long held the position that while it welcomes financial aid from overseas from those who choose to give it, it will never actively seek it.
The move is also a recognition of India’s economic transformation.
It’s now the third largest investor in the UK and the largest market for British goods outside the EU.
But much of the UK aid money was used to fund projects in some of India’s poorest areas and some will worry that those at the receiving end could suffer.
“After reviewing the programme and holding discussions with the government of India, we agreed that now is the time to move to a relationship focusing on skillsharing rather than aid,” she said.
“India is successfully developing and our own bilateral relationship has to keep up with 21st Century India.
“It is time to recognise India’s changing place in the world.”
Although all existing financial grants will be honoured, the UK will not sign off any new programmes from now on.
Last year the UK gave India about £250m in bilateral aid as well as £29m in technical co-operation.
By focusing post-2015 support on trade, skills and assisting private sector anti-poverty projects which can generate a return on investment, the UK estimates its overall contribution will be one-tenth of the current figure.
In making the decision, the UK is citing the progress India has made in tackling poverty in recent years. It says 60 million people have been lifted out of poverty as a result of the doubling of spending on health and education since 2006.
India spends £70bn on its social welfare budget, compared with £2.2bn on defence and £780m on space exploration.
From 2015, development experts will continue to work alongside the Foreign Office and UK Trade and Investment but focus on sharing advice on poverty reduction, private sector projects and global partnerships in food security, climate change and disease prevention.