This Article on ‘Ombudsman’ is written by Aditi Amarawat. A 2nd year student from Jai Narayan Vyas University and an intern at Legal Upanishad.
The word “ombudsman” refers to an individual appointed by an organization to settle complaints regarding that organization.
The word owes its genesis to Sweden, where an ombudsman refers to a government representative who files and settles complaints regarding corruption or abuse by the government.
The idea of a government representative that becomes a means to make parliament and the judiciary even more accountable was first introduced by the Swedish constitution (OCED).
The Ombudsman plays an important role in safeguarding the rights of citizens and making sure that the administration of the concerned authority is working in accordance with the law. If any malpractices are found, an ombudsman can pressurise the authorities or bring the matter into the public view or to the courts for the appropriate procedures against the organization.
The first ombudsman body was established in the 19th century by the Swedish parliament. It was first used as an institution by King Charles the XII in 1809.
The department of the destitute ombudsman was founded to deal with the complaints that citizens had against their government. Even though the concept did not seem to be adopted by any foreigners for the better part of a century, it was later discovered and used by fellow Scandinavian countries such as Denmark and Finland. These ombudsman officials wrote about their work and their offices in the English language, which introduced the concept to the western world. (Sharma, 2020).
Since then, such a body of institutions has expanded all over the globe. The significance of an ombudsman steadily increased as citizens across the globe became aware of the protection of their civil rights and demanded a structure where such rights were protected.
Europe saw a rise in ombudsman institutions after the Second World War to protect the fundamental rights of their citizens. (OCED)
The ombudsman institutions saw a rise in Africa in the 1960s when the continent seemed to be going through a number of institutional and structural reforms.
DUTIES OF AN OMBUDSMAN
These institutions around the world deal with different mandates and issues on a national or local level. The problems and areas that are dealt with by these institutions vary heavily, from human rights to complaints against public administration.
According to the findings of the OECD Survey on the role of Ombudsman Institutions in Open Government, some of the most popular mandates that are dealt with by such bodies all across the globe are:
- Complaints against public administration (96%)
- Mediation between the public and government (68%).
- Access to information (40%)
The report further adds that the data clearly shows that such institutions have successfully acted as the voice of the common public, hence proving themselves to be effective in an open democracy.
OMBUDSMAN IN INDIA
The first introduction of this mechanism was made by CD Deshmukh as the chairman of the University Grants Commission, where he set up an independent tribunal to look into complaints by the public.
The idea of an ombudsman was first suggested by M.C. Setalvad in 1962 at the all-India lawyers’ conference.
Later, the same was suggested by the administrative reforms commission in 1966. The bill regarding the ombudsman was introduced to parliament multiple times from 1975 all the way to 2008 but never passed.
Let us have a look at some of the most important ombudsmen in Indian democracy.
LOKPAL AND LOKAYUKTA
In India, the ombudsman is referred to as a “Lopkpal” (national ombudsman) or a “Lokayuktas” (state ombudsman) in India.
The Lokpal bill was essentially an anti-corruption bill that deals with complaints against high-ranking working officials in government offices.
The Lokpal and Lokayukta Acts were passed in 2013 by the Rajya Sabha and had the assent of the prime minister in 2014. A Lokpal has jurisdiction over the Prime Minister, ministers, members of parliament, etc.
Even though the Lokpal and Lokayukta acts are a step in the right direction, they have their fair share of loopholes.
- There is no provision regarding the appointment of a lokayukta or a state ombudsman. The act leaves the appointment totally to the discretion of the individual state.
- As of 2020, only four states (Bihar, Manipur, Tamil Nadu, and Odisha) have appointed Lokayuktas. (Transparency International India, 2020).
- The act has no revisionary provisions, meaning there is no procedure to demand a revision of a decision made by the Lokpal
- The Lokpal Act, unlike many other ombudsmen around the world, such as New Zealand or Denmark, does not have jurisdiction over the judiciary.
CENTRAL VIGILANCE COMMISSION
The commission was first established on the recommendation of the K. Santhanam committee in 1964.
The commission consists of a central vigilance commissioner and no more than two vigilance officers.
It mainly focuses on the malpractices by the central agencies and corruption charges. The CVC is given the discretion to monitor all the vigilance activity by the government.
VINEET NARAIN VS UNION OF INDIA
Although the central vigilance commission was initially only an advisory body with no executive powers, this changed following the landmark Vineet Narain vs. Union of India (1997) decision, also known as the Jain Hawala case.
The investigation being conducted by the central bureau of investigation was abruptly stopped due to the outside influence of politicians and bureaucrats. The search and seized documents would lead to the unravelling of a huge scam involving top politicians.
After the transfer of the concerned CBI officials, a written petition under art. 32 asked the supreme court to resume the investigation and look into the abrupt ceasing of the investigation.
The Supreme Court ordered a change in the mandate of the CVC and asked the government to make it a statutory body with more powers.
As a result of the judgment, the Central Vigilance Commission Act, 2003 was passed.
- Even though the CVC has quite a wide jurisdiction, it does not have the authority to file charges against any government agencies. (Prasanna, 2020).
- Lack of transparency during the appointment of the vigilance commissioner has been a topic of controversy and defeats the purpose of the act.
- More authority In the classical model of an ombudsman, the person is put in an advisory role. In evolving times, it is important that such institutes have more executive power to act.
- More Independence Even though the concept of the ombudsman requires them to be impartial and independent, they need further protection from the strong political influence that hinders their work.
- More resources Since ombudsmen act as independent authorities, they are almost always devoid of sufficient funds and human resources.
The ombudsmen act as the representatives of an organization. Their sole purpose is to investigate complaints made by the general public against the said authorities. These representatives mostly deal with complaints regarding corruption and the workings of the organization.
The ombudsman can be seen as a pillar of open democracy that expects to move towards more transparent governance. Even though these institutions have seen some clear setbacks in their development,
This institution is a tool that helps citizens hold their organisations and governments accountable. Ombudsmen play an integral part in safeguarding the rights and interests of citizens while holding the state and other corporations accountable.
OCED. (n.d.). Role of ombudsmen in open governments. Ombudsman In Europe .
Prasanna, a. (2020). administration of cvc. legal india .
Sharma, p. (2020). evolution of ombudsman. LexPeeps .
Transparency International India. (2020). Economic times , 1.