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251 Letter from Crocker to Casey

New Delhi, 25 April 1953

Notes on Colombo Plan Aid in India1

Efficacy of Colombo Plan aid

The hopes expressed at the launching of the Colombo Plan have not been fulfilled if only because there was never any possibility of their being fulfilled. At that time hardly anyone concerned understood what was involved in the development of under-developed countries. The same observation applies to the rather foolish enthusiasms engendered in U.N. bodies and in the U.S. at the time of Truman's Point-4 speech. As far as India is concerned the great problem is the capacity to absorb aid. This problem must be even greater in countries more backward than India. Again, despite the present difficulty in absorbing aid, the volume of aid which we, or any other country, can give is not more than a drop in the bucket as compared with what would be required to develop India. Further, the argument that Colombo Plan and other foreign aid is an investment against Communism is normally greatly over-stated.

What the Indians want from our aid

What they really want is money to lessen the deficit financing which their 5-Year Plan entails. This is to say, they look upon aid as a partial break on inflation. In the last analysis they will take anything we give them, including knitting wool, mobile cinema vans, or the services of nursing sisters, because they are gifts; but they attach no value to these things; what they want is either money or those goods which will save them money.

Gratitude for Colombo Plan

Apart from a handful of individuals, such as Deshmukh,2 there is no gratitude for Colombo Plan aid. Due to the climate of opinion generated in the U.N. and elsewhere Indians in general consider aid from countries better off then themselves to be a right owed to them and not a charity. The U.S., which has contributed about $100,000,000 a year, gets no gratitude for this charity. On reflection I feel that Chester Bowles3 must be held partly responsible for this attitude as he oversold India to the U.S. Congress and public and he plugged too much the double theme of India's having a right to some of America's wealth and of American aid being a surefire insurance against Communism in India. But however little grateful the Indian public opinion might be, and how little efficacious our aid might be, we have to go on giving it until at least the expiration of the present Colombo Plan in 1957. There can be no going back on that commitment

Conditions we should insist upon

In the early days of the Colombo Plan we never went to the lengths of the various U.N. bodies in spending the annual allotment on more or less anything provided only that we could spend it. Nevertheless it seems that only now are we appreciating many of the factors involved in seeing that our aid is not wasted. In my opinion we should now lay down certain conditions necessary in any receiving country before we give aid to them. Amongst those conditions I would list the following:–

(a) A plan for development should have been worked out which has reasonable exactitude and is feasible within the circumstances of the country concerned. If I am not mistaken only 2 or 3 of the recipient countries so far meet these conditions.

(b) A recipient country should have a reasonably modem fiscal system (it is because of the U.S. failing to insist on this condition that most of the aid poured into the Philippines or Thailand has been wasted).

(c) The position revealed in Beavis' minute on the value of projects being undertaken at Australian expense in Pakistan should not be tolerated. A solution is that a project should never be accepted on recommendation of the Pakistan High Commissioner in Australia. He in fact should be eliminated from the chain of communication and the Australian High Commissioner in Pakistan should take his place. The latter is then in a position to recommend a scheme or not and to exercise supervision.

(d) The Minister's idea about having a Supervising Engineer for keeping an eye on the projects financed by Australia throughout the Colombo Plan area might have an applicability in some places but as far as our experience in India goes it would scarcely be applicable here. As regards the remaining areas, doubts would have to be cleared up as to whether one man could cover so large a bailiwick, and whether a man could be found sufficiently elastic mentally to be able to cope with engineering details ranging over so many and so different environments.

(e) Until something happens to the rate of population increase, the likelihood is that whatever extra food, or other goods, is produced each year as a result of the 5-Year Plan, development programmes, etc., will be just enough to keep alive the babies born each year. This is to say, if we were really serious about the efficacy of our Colombo Plan aid we would have to look into the population problem in each country and we would have to lay down certain conditions regarding the population problem. I hasten to say, however, that I am well aware that it is not feasible politically to do anything about the population problem, at least for the time being.

Should the bees be brought to the hive or the hive to the bees

As for bringing foreign experts to India, it is now clear that not many experts are needed and that even in the case of some of those authentically needed there will be a local resistance to using them..India has an authentic need for orthopaedic surgery. The U.K. sent out an orthopaedic surgeon who, being a Quaker, came out here in a missionary spirit and brought a team of physiotherapists with him. He has found so much resistance to, as well as indifference about, his work that he resigned after eight months or so. To take a lower level, the experience of the Australian nurses has been similar. Apart from these local resistances, enormous mistakes have been made, especially by the U.N. bodies, in letting loose a crowd of people who are described as experts but who have nothing of relevance to contribute to India and who were sometimes impudent mountebanks. UNESCO for example brought a New Zealand psychologist here to teach the Indians Child Guidance. The person concerned become a laughing stock and his contract was terminated after 12 months. The money spent in bringing him and his wife and family here and in sending them around the country, at great expenses, has been a total waste. This experience is not isolated. Nevertheless some experts are badly needed. The problem is to determine in what fields experts are needed, then to find the experts, and then to see that they spread their technical knowledge. Normally these people will not be university graduates and types of that kind. They will be, for example, mechanics who can teach ordinary peasants how to maintain agricultural machinery. It will be very difficult to get Australians who can do this. The men concerned will have to learn an Indian language, they will have to support conditions of life, notably smells, filth, etc., which will be foreign to their standards, and they will have to resist boredom in their spare time as otherwise they will take to the bottle or worse. As the mechanic is less likely to meet these particular conditions than the educated man the problem involved is obvious.

As for whether trainees should be sent to Australia, here again the answer will vary from country to country and from category to category. Just as during the first half year or two of Technical Assistance the mistake was made of sending too many so-called experts to these countries, so too was the mistake made of sending too many trainees to Australia, and other countries. Judging by Indian experiences it would scarcely be an exaggeration to say that [at] least half of the money spent on U.K. fellowships in the first year or two of Technical Assistance has been wasted. The Indian authorities are now well aware of this and, under the instigation of the Prime Minister himself, they are resisting sending any more trainees overseas. We have failed to get any nominees during the last six months or so and I will not be surprised if our training programme peters out altogether. The reception to the recent visit of Reuter4 (who incidentally has defects of personality for peddling his particular line in overseas countries–the aggressive Jew is not appreciated in most of Asia) has been negative. We must share some of the blame for the waste in sending trainees to Australia; but as far as India is concerned I think our training efforts have been worthwhile; on the other hand as far as Pakistan is concerned, the sending out by air of groups of Administrative Officers cannot be justified. What is clear is that a contribution can be made by Australia through taking certain trainees; but this contribution can only be made if we take people who are going to be trained in some technique really needed in India.

That is to say, the question is not a conflict between bringing in experts on the one hand or sending out trainees on the other. The question is how to cut down both experts and trainees to what is really needed. Far fewer of both experts and trainees are needed than had been originally envisaged.

In any case the present wasteful practice of sending trainees to Australia, or of sending experts from Australia, by air should be stopped immediately.

The value of the Colombo Bureau

In my opinion the Colombo Bureau has no value and we should not have supported the move to find a replacement for Wilson, the first Director. I had a long and frank talk with Wilson at the end of March in which he told me that after two years experience he had come to the conclusion that there was no raison d'etre for the Bureau. I wrote a minute5 on this talk and gave instructions for a copy to be sent to Canberra. Both the secretary and the officer concerned are no longer here and there is now some doubt as to whether the minute ever reached Canberra. In any case, I sent a copy to you personally last April. I attach a copy of the original minute to this note. In repeating my opinion that the Colombo Bureau is a complete waste of money I want to make it clear that I have nothing to say against Dr. Curtin, the new Director. As far as I can see he is a man of good quality.

As a result of the decision taken at the last meeting of the Consultative Committee the Bureau is destined to become more and more a publicity organisation. The odd thing is that the two delegations responsible for this publicity idea, namely the Indians and the U.K., have accepted something different from what they originally asked for. The U.K. interest appears to be not much more than finding a job for a certain Public Relations man now in the Treasury. In any case the Indians have lost interest.


Apart from the fact that the Colombo Bureau deals only with Technical Assistance, which is a small part of Colombo Plan aid, the experience of the last 2 years makes it clear that all aid is going to is handled on a bi-lateral basis.There can be no universal system about it; every step will be settled bi-laterally between the donor country and the receiver country. In this connection care needs to be taken of the word 'co-ordinating'. If we do not take care we will find it saddling us with big overhead staffs which will achieve nothing more than an output of paper–and paper of dubious value. There is also a risk of its giving ECAFE and WHO the foothold which they are now ceaselessly seeking to get on Colombo Plan funds.

Technical assistance & economic development

The distinction between these two aspects of aid cannot be pushed too far. On the whole the distinction is artificial.


Any over-anxious effort at publicity about Colombo Plan aid will do more harm than good. The Americans here have suffered from their excessive publicity about their own aid. Whatever publicity is done must be done cunningly and unobtrusively. The best publicity we have received so far has been from students who have been studying in Australia. In fact I am inclined to feel that the only political value which Australia has got out of its Colombo Plan efforts has been from the students.

[NAA: A10299, C15]

1 This note was presumably written in response to Casey's letter of 25 March 1953 (Document 247).

2 Sir Chintaman Deshmukh, Indian Minister for Finance.

3 Chester Bowles, US Ambassador to India, 1951-53.

4 Not identified.

5 Not published.

Last Updated: 10 January 2017
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