CORRUPTION is dreadful in India, as shown by a current “season of scams” —over mobile-phone licences, the Commonwealth games and more. Politicians, notably the ruling Congress party, are now feeling the public’s ire ( see article ). Worries have also grown that graft is scaring away foreign businesses. Circumstantial evidence points that way. A spokesman for a big Western firm mutters into his cappuccino about a recent High Court decision, which if upheld would cost his company billions. It was so strange, he says, it could be explained only by judicial graft. A representative of a British media firm, SIS Live, which broadcast the Commonwealth games from Delhi, in October, is furious—along with other contractors—at being left millions of pounds out of pocket because, he says, payments have been frozen by investigators digging up evidence of corruption at the event. Across the board, surveys regularly tell how graft is an unusually heavy tax on Indian business. An annual one published on March 23 rd by PERC, a Shanghai-based consultancy, shows investors are more negative than they were five years ago. Of 16 mostly Asian countries assessed, India now ranks the fourth-most-corrupt, in the eyes of 1 , 725 businessmen questioned. Being considered worse than China or Vietnam is bad enough; being lumped with the likes of Cambodia looks embarrassing. Outsiders may get an exaggerated view. India’s democracy, with a nosy press and opposition, helps to trumpet its scams and scandals, more than happens in, say, China. Yet locals tell similar tales. A cabinet minister frets that there is so much ghotala (fiddling), “it tells the world we are all corrupt. It may be a dampener to investment.” Others agree. KPMG this month reported on 100 bosses who were asked about their own experience of graft. One in three said it did deter long-term investment. Clean-up costs Judging how much difference it makes is tricky. Right now, investors may be spooked as much by the fight against graft as by the corruption itself. Arpinder Singh of Ernst & Young in Mumbai says foreigners, especially those with some connection to America, increasingly hire firms like his to help them comply with America’s Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Once a foreigner holds more than about 5-10 % equity in an Indian firm, it is seen as having some responsibility for how it is run. Now even Indian firms, if they want to raise money abroad, or if their bosses want to protect their own professional reputations, are doing the same. As other countries, such as Britain, bring in tough anti-graft laws like America’s, the trend will continue. Yet many Indian firms still fail to comply with higher standards, so deals falter. Mr Singh ticks off a list, “in infrastructure, ports, toll roads, irrigation, microfinance”, of deals he has worked on that collapsed over “governance problems”. None of this is enough to prove that graft, alone, is scaring off business. Pranab Mukherjee, the finance minister, insists there is no correlation between corruption and foreign direct investment (FDI). Jeffrey Immelt, the boss of GE, in Delhi last week, cheerily agreed, insisting that a fast-growing market trumps all other concerns. But something is keeping investors wary. In 2010 the country drew just $24 billion in FDI, down by nearly a third on the year before, and barely a quarter of China’s tally. There is no shortage of other discouragements: high inflation, bureaucracy, disputes over land ownership, and limits on foreign ownership in some industries. Even so, India is home to an unusually pernicious form of corruption, argues Jahangir Aziz of JPMorgan. Elsewhere graft may be a fairly efficient way to do business: investors who pay bribes in China may at least be confident of what they will get in return. In India, however, too many crooked officials demand cash but fail to deliver their side of the bargain. Uncertainty, not just the cost of the “graft tax”, may be the biggest deterrent of all.