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India: Commonwealth Games

Volume 722: debated on Tuesday 9 November 2010


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the assurance given by the Government of India that special funds for the support of Dalits and other scheduled castes were not used to finance the Commonwealth Games.

My Lords, I can assure the noble and right reverend Lord that we have been monitoring this situation carefully. Following earlier reassurances from Delhi that the Commonwealth Games were self-funding, the Indian Home Minister has subsequently acknowledged that some moneys earmarked for Dalits and scheduled castes were in fact used to contribute to Commonwealth Games infrastructure projects and that, in his view, this was both wrong and inconsistent with Indian Planning Commission guidelines. I understand that the Indian Government are now seeking to find ways of returning the sums involved to the scheduled castes plan and have appointed a task force to revise guidelines and their application.

I thank the Minister for his reply, and I am particularly grateful that he has made the House aware that the assurance previously given by the Indian Government was in fact unfounded. In the light of that recognition, will Her Majesty’s Government monitor the situation and perhaps also raise the question that, as has been widely reported, a similar diversion of funds has taken place in a range of states?

I will certainly follow the advice of the noble and right reverend Lord. I do not have any details on the other allegations but I will look into them. He might be interested to know that the sum diverted was £94 million. We are monitoring the situation very closely, and the British high commissioner is in discussion with the Indian National Commission for Minorities about these and other issues.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on the Dalits. Now that the Delhi state government have finally acknowledged this diversion of funds which should have gone to projects such as schools, healthcare centres and, most importantly, the eradication of the demeaning manual scavenging which is the means of livelihood for so many of the Dalits, does the Minister—who I know has long been a great champion of the Commonwealth—agree that the Secretary-General of the Commonwealth should ensure that the lessons to be learnt from this very unfortunate incident should be placed on the agenda of the next Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, Australia, next October so that there can be a full discussion of whether it is correct and sensible for a country which has more than half its population living in absolute poverty and is a recipient of development aid to be seeking to host an enormous event at such colossal cost?

I certainly recognise the validity of the noble Lord’s introduction of the Commonwealth into this issue, and I think that the Commonwealth has a very valuable role to play. However, I am not so sure whether it is a question of drawing it to the attention of the Secretary-General and the Heads of Government Meeting or of drawing it to the attention of the Eminent Persons Group which is now looking at ways in which the Commonwealth monitoring and policing of human rights generally can be greatly upgraded. I suspect, on reflection, that it might be best to put it before the EPG. Either way, the concern of the Commonwealth in upholding, monitoring and strengthening human rights through all its member states, including the world power which India is, is very important indeed.

My Lords, would the Minister agree with Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, who has said that the caste system is a blot on humanity? Is it not the case that the way to end things such as manual scavenging, which has rightly been referred to, is by the promotion of education for Dalit people? Can the Minister say what access to education is being given to the Dalit people, especially in areas such as information technology, as a result of support being given by Her Majesty's Government?

I am not sure I can say what has followed as a result of intervention by Her Majesty's Government, but one has to bear in mind that India is a sovereign, great and respected nation. Indeed, as I said just now, it is a world power. We must leave it to the Indian authorities to recognise pressures from outside, which certainly include pressures from us, and to respond accordingly. Generally, our high commissioner is in constant contact on these matters. The concerns of this House and the other place are constantly placed before our Indian friends, but in the end, we are friends, not lecturers, and we must have a good relationship with this great nation that is emerging as a major force in the world.

My Lords, now that the diversion of these funds from the special Scheduled Caste Sub Plan to the infrastructure of the Commonwealth Games has been acknowledged, will my noble friend ask New Delhi what is its response to the demands by the National Campaign on Dalit Human Rights including, particularly, the demand for an audit of the funds diverted by the Comptroller and Auditor-General of India?

Yes, we will certainly ask for that information to be put forward. I possibly did not fully answer my noble friend Lord Grenfell who implied that India was perhaps not the best place to hold the Commonwealth Games. The Government would disagree with him about that. There were some undoubted hiccups, but in the end the Commonwealth Games went ahead very successfully, helped cement relationships and carried forward the value of the Commonwealth network, which is the one of the most powerful platforms of the 21st century for the entire globe.

My Lords, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, is to be congratulated for his persistence in pursuing this question in the way that he has. Is the Minister aware of whether any money from DfID was involved in this unfortunate use of funds that should have gone to the Dalits? I wonder whether the Indian high commissioner has been asked into the Foreign Office to ascertain whether any DfID money has been involved and, indeed, whether he is satisfied that DfID money will be used for the purposes for which the British Government provide aid to India and not for other purposes, as was the case in this instance.

Yes, we are aware of the situation, which is that no money from DfID has been involved in this situation or, indeed, has been given to the provincial Government of Delhi, although obviously DfID money goes to the federal Government, which is a different matter. No money at all is involved in this issue. As for discussions with the Indian high commissioner, we all see him from time to time and hold very fruitful discussions with him. I am not sure when he was last in the Foreign Office, but the noble Baroness can be assured that we are in constant contact.

My Lords, can the Minister tell the House whether there was a proportion of Dalits in the Indian national team in these games, given that they are India’s largest single minority?

No, I am afraid I cannot tell the noble Lord that. The composition of the Indian competing teams is a matter for the Indian Government, and we must leave it to them to have a proper proportion and proper balance. I believe they recognise the validity of world concerns about the caste system, which is a part of yesterday’s world, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, but we must leave it to them to choose who they have as competitors in their team for the Commonwealth Games and other events.