New Delhi: At age 67, Rajendra Yadav is convinced India is a land of the corrupt.
Ever since officials in Ghaziabad forced him to shell out Rs.20,000 as bribe to spike an inflated electricity bill issued to him, Yadav has been a bitter man.
"Nothing gets done in this country unless you pay a bribe," Yadav told IANS, echoing a sentiment that has today pushed tens of thousands to rally behind the fasting Gandhian Anna Hazare.
"You have to pay bribe to get a water connection, electricity connection, ration card, even pension."
A retired government employee, Yadav is one of the millions across India who are today rallying behind Anna Hazare, whose hunger strike demanding a stringent anti-corruption law has ignited an unprecedented mass movement.
Transparency International is not surprised.
The Berlin-based group has ranked India the 87th most corrupt country -- among 178 countries. This was a fall from the 84th spot of 2009.
"The Indian government has not been taking the issue of corruption seriously for very long," P.S. Bawa, who heads the group`s India chapter, told agency.
"There is gross ignorance of the criminal justice system and people feel they can break the law. Those who want benefits pay (bribe) money. Others oblige them by doing their work," Bawa said.
Economists admit that corruption has become the biggest roadblock to emerging India.
A recent study by consultancy firm KMPG said corruption posed a risk to India`s projected nine percent GDP growth and may lead to a volatile political and economic environment.
US-based research and advocacy organization Global Financial Integrity said India has lost $462 billion due to illicit financial flows, much of it because of corruption and tax evasion, since independence in 1947.
Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee has said the estimate of black money stashed away overseas by Indians is estimated at between $462 billion and $1.4 trillion.
Although corruption has grown over the decades and now affects virtually every Indian, revelations that politicians virtually looted national wealth in the conduct of last year`s Commonwealth Games and while giving away second generation spectrum has jolted an entire population.
A Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) official says the agency gets to probe about 1,000 cases of corruption against government officials each year.
"This is the icing," a CBI source admitted. "God knows how much more corruption is actually taking place."
The CBI and other related agencies probe only corruption by public servants, including government officers and legislators. Experts say that corporate graft is equally mammoth.
Everything combined has given birth to an emotive pan-India movement in support of Anna Hazare, igniting protests and solidarity marches in cities and towns.
"Corruption is something you face from the cradle to the grave," says Ritesh Sharma, a 20-year-old Delhi University student at the site of Anna Hazare`s hunger strike.
Transparency International`s Bawa feels that mass anger could force the government to act -- finally.
"There are so many things that need to be done and have not been done for so long. The anguish of people is on the brim now, and the government will have to take some action. I think the government will act," he said.