This article has been written by Parul Sharma, pursuing BBA LLB from Centre for legal studies Gitarattan International Business School GGSIPU. In this article, she has tried to explain about the Evolution of the Concept of Ombudsman.
Meaning of Ombudsman
“Ombudsmen” means “a delegate, agent, officer or commissioner”. A detailed definition of “Ombudsman” isn’t possible, but Garner appropriately describes him as “an officer of Parliament, having as his primary function, the duty of acting as an agent of Parliament, with intend of safeguarding citizens against abuse or misuse of administrative power by the executive”. The “Ombudsman” is thus an official person appointed to receive and inspect complaints of citizens against the govt. and its officers. In other words, if there are irregularities in the functioning of the public administration, the citizens hold the power to register a complaint against the concerned authority. He is an officer of parliament.
He is appointed by Parliament and thus, he’s not an official within the administrative hierarchy. He is higher than party politics and is in a place to think and decide objectively. There is no intervention even by Parliament in the discharge of his duties. He prepares a report to Parliament and sets out reactions of citizens against the administration. He also makes his own recommendations to eliminate the causes of complaints. Very wide publicity is given to those reports. All his reports are also published in the national newspaper. Thus, in short, he’s “watchdog” or “public safety valve” against maladministration, and therefore the “protector of the small man”.
The word ‘Ombudsman’ is of Swedish root. It was first utilized in its modern sense in 1809 when the Swedish Parliament well- established the office of Justitieombudsman, which was to focus on citizens’ interests in their dealings with govt. Ombudsman was first introduced in Sweden by King Charles XII in the 18th century. The first Swedish ombudsman was Lars Augustin Mannerheim. For quite 100 years, the office remained confined to Sweden and would hardly create any ripple for other countries. Its contagion effect spread in the 20th century when it was adopted within other Scandinavian countries, in Finland (1919), Denmark (1955) and Norway (1962). The introduction of the Danish ombudsman, in 1955, marked the start of the worldwide interest in the ombudsman schemes. After assuming as the very first Danish Ombudsman, Professor Stephen Hurwitz, begin to write and lecture about his office in the English language. This activity heated the interest, which readily spread within the Anglo-Saxon world as more and more article begin to come out about ombudsman in English language publications. The establishment of an ombudsman in New Zealand, the first common law country, in 1962, set off an excellent deal of interest in the ombudsman concept throughout the world.
In England first Ombudsman is established in 1967 by parliamentary commissioner act of 1967 and it is called as Parliamentary Commissioner. He appointed by the govt. on the recommendation of the prime minister and hold office for 65 years.
In the US, there’s no undivided federal ombudsman service. The role of handling complaints against federal authorities has got to some extent been unofficially incorporated into the role of the US Member of Congress. This informal job has become increasingly time-consuming. It is subject to criticism because it meddles with a legislator’s initial duty, namely to read and be knowledgeable about a bill before casting his or her vote. Though there’s a tone of Ombudsman in the USA no Ombudsman has infiltrated the administration except within the 3 states of Hawaii, Nebraska and Oregon for local govt. agencies. Since 1963, in every session the of the congress a bill has been introduced to determine an establishment like Ombudsman was taken in account by the members of the Congress as a haul on their status and power for they consider it their sole prerogative to represent their constituencies and to handle the grievances of the people. However, the congressional investigation and grievances cells established in various departments, just like the police review Boards, discharged the work of Ombudsman.
In India, in 1962, M.C. Setalvad suggested the idea of establishing an Ombudsman at the All India Lawyer Conference. Here, the Ombudsman is known as Lokpal. The word Lokpal is originated from the Sanskrit word ‘Loka’ meaning people and ‘pala’ meaning protector or caretaker. Together it means the protector of the people. The term Lokpal was brought up in 1963 by Laxmi Mall Singhvi, a member of parliament during a parliamentary debate about grievance mechanisms. An Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) was founded on 5 January 1966 under the Chairmanship of Shri Morarji Desai. It recommended two-tier machinery:
- Lokpal at the Centre and
- one Lokayukta each at the State level for redressal of people’s grievances.
An attempt to establish Lokpal (ombudsman) in India started in the year 1968 when the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 1968 was introduced in the Parliament. Due to various circumstances, no conclusion could be drawn in various attempts. The demand for setting up the institution of Lokpal and Lokayukta got new impetus in 2011 when social activist Anna Hazare went on fast unto death to push for the “Jan Lokpal Bill” proposed by the civil society in India in view of all-pervasive governance deficits in the country. Finally, this law got enacted and became law through a notification in Gazette in the year 2014. The Act is known as the Lokpal and Lokayukta Act, 2013.
Powers and duties
The Ombudsman analyses and investigates into complaints made by the citizens against the abuse of discretionary power, maladministration or administrative inefficiency and takes suitable actions. For that purpose, very wide powers are conferred to him. He has access to departmental files. The complainant isn’t required to steer any evidence before the Ombudsman to prove his case. It’s the function and duty of the Ombudsman to assure himself whether or not the complaint was justified. He can even act Suo Motu. He can grant relief to the resentful person as unlike the powers of a civil court, his powers aren’t limited.
Of course, there are some arguments against setting up of the office of the Ombudsman which are as follows: –
- It’s argued that this institution may prove successful in those countries which have a relatively small population, but it might be unsuccessful in populous countries, like the US or India, because the number of complaints may be too large for a single person to eliminate.
- It’s also said that the success of the institution of Ombudsman in Denmark owes an excellent deal to the personality of its first Ombudsman – Prof. Hurwitz. He took a keen interest within the complaints made to him and investigated them personally. Prestige and private contact would be lost if there are several such officers, or if there’s a single officer who has always been depended upon a large staff and subordinate officers.
- According to Mukherjee J, in India, this institution is not suitable. He expressed it as “an accusatorial and inquisitional institution – a mixture unprecedented in democracy with traditions of an independent judiciary”. It’s an “impracticable and disastrous experiment” which cannot fit into the Constitution.
In a democratic govt., it is expected that the subjects have adequate means for the redress of their grievances. Since the present judicial system isn’t sufficient to deal with all cases of injustices, an institution like the Ombudsman may help in doing full and complete justice to resentful people. But an Ombudsman is not a “panacea for all evils of bureaucracy.” His success depends upon the existence of a reasonably well-administered State. He cannot deal with the situation where the administration is riddled with patronage and corruption.
The Indian Parliament so far has not enacted any Act though a proposal to constitute an institution of Ombudsman (Lokpal) was made by the Administrative Reforms Commission as early as in 1967. Some states, however, have enacted statutes and appointed Lokayukt