Every year, the poorest of the poor in India are cheated out of 53 per cent of the wheat and 39 per cent of the rice earmarked for them. A new official report highlights the shocking scale of corruption in the Public Distribution System. The system, set up in 1977, is intended to let Indians below the poverty line buy grain at subsidised prices in 'ration' shops. But the trucks carrying the grain from the warehouses often do not reach their destination. Corrupt officials divert them, grab the grain and sell it on the black market at a profit. They spend the money buying property and giving their children a foreign education and lavish weddings. The rice and wheat siphoned off in this way over the past three years was worth GBP4.5 billion (HK$70.8 billion), according to the report by the Ministry of Consumer Affairs. Some areas, such as the northeast, have not seen a single grain of wheat for years - 100 per cent of the food grain is stolen. 'People [in Assam] said they had hardly ever seen a government truck,' said New Delhi economist Anuradha Bhasin. 'And on rare occasions that they did, it carried wheat, which is useless because the people there eat only rice.' Indians, inured to graft, are nonetheless surprised at the level of corruption exposed by the report. A Times of India editorial said a hungry state was a failed state. 'Providing the hungry with food should not be viewed as just a pious goal, but as a necessary duty of the state.' Experts say the system is steeped in corruption. To get a licence to run a ration shop, for example, the applicant has to bribe a district officer. Earlier this week, villagers in West Bengal attacked a warehouse which was meant to supply grain to ration shops. The shops have had no subsidised grain for months.