Several British couples wanting to have children have been travelling to India for surrogate mothers, lending a new dimension to medical outsourcing.

In what is called "reproductive tourism" in India, the couples – many of them of Asian origin – find arranging for surrogate mothers in India far cheaper than the thousands of pounds they spend on fertility treatment in Britain.

British patients waiting on long queues for normal operations travelling to India for speedier treatment is no longer news. But reports say that the Indian medical infrastructure is now being increasingly used by British nationals for reproductive purpose.

The Guardian Monday reported the case of a couple from Leicester, Ajay and Saroj Shah, who used the services of Daksha, a 31-year-old surrogate mother in Gujarat. She is loaning her womb for Rs.150,000 ($3,300).

The Shahs reportedly spent 60,000 pounds on fertility treatment in Britain, with little success.

The newspaper report said: "The British couple appear to be part of a flourishing trade in reproductive tourism in India, which has a more relaxed attitude to paying women for pregnancy, a practice prohibited in many other countries.

"Indian clinics report that the incidence of surrogacy has more than doubled in the past three years, with the demand driven by fertility requests from abroad and the decision by some professional women to delay trying for a family until their late 30s".

The report claimed that such treatment had become big business in India and was now worth Rs.20 billion ($450 million).

"The increase in requests from abroad is partly fuelled by the relatively cheap costs. At about 3,000 pounds in Britain, an IVF cycle costs five times what you might pay in India," the report said.

Campaigners in Britain have reportedly questioned the ethics of such businesses.

"What is missing here is a debate about not protecting the rights of the surrogate mother," Susan Seenan, of Infertility Network UK, told the newspaper.

"It does not matter where you are – in the UK, US or India – giving up a child is a terribly emotional issue. We have seen that here in Britain and I am not sure the Indian system has addressed that."

The report claimed that the Indian council for medical research did not have any guidelines to deal with foreign clients using Indian surrogates but added that a study was being prepared to assess the issue.

It added that any child born to an Indian woman through such a process would not automatically get a British passport.