Colchester-based aid charity Lepra has questioned the Government's decision to make no new financial aid commitments to India.

Lepra, which has worked in India for more than 90 years, has labelled the decision a sound-bite policy  not rooted in the needs of real people.

International Development Secretary Justine Greening announced the move which will stop all financial assistance from the UK to India from 2015, and will save about £200million.

Ms Greening, who took responsibility for Britain's aid budget in September, said programmes already under way would be completed as planned, but no new ones would be signed off.

Sarah Nancollas, chief executive of  Lepra, said: "It is right to recognise and applaud the progress that India has made through investment in lifting 60 million people out of poverty since 2006.

"However, there are still more than 421 million people living in extreme poverty in India's poorest eight states, more than in the 26 poorest African countries combined.

"Many argue that, with increasing wealth, the government of India should not need help to tackle the issues of poverty within their country.

"However, people living in extreme poverty can't wait for the long-term structural changes needed in many states where regional Government capacity is weak and health systems barely function. They need help now."

Last year, Lepra worked directly with more than 700,000 of India's extreme poor and reached a further one million with life-saving health education.

It argues  India cannot be viewed as a single country, but should be treated like a continent because of the structure of the country with states with populations of 100 million.

Ms Nancollas describes the decision to cut aid as a short-term political decision aimed at earning popular support rather than being based in the realities of the development needs of people living in abject poverty.