Short essay on the Lokpal (ombudsman) in India

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The institution of ombudsman was first conceived and put into operation in Sweden.

Swedish word meaning commissioner has proved to be very exportable after the Second World War. Ombudsman has become a reality in several countries and is an aspiration, a much talked about reform measure in others.

The dictionary defines the ombudsman as “an official to investigate complaints by individual against maladministration by public authorities. Maladministration is a vague term but may broadly refer to the way in which something has been handled, for example unjustifiable delay incompetence, neglect or prejudice and not to the merits of the decision.

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It may be taken to cover administrative action or inaction based on or influenced by improper considerations. Arbitrariness, malice or bias including unfair discrimination are examples of improper considerations. India is to reincarnate this functionary under the name of lokpal and is to use it as an anti-corruption institution.

India has been talking about ombudsman more or less regularly since 1967. Given the name of Lokpal, the Administrative Reforms Commission (1966-70) under Morarji Desai, later K. Hanumanthaiya submitted its first report recommending the installation of this functionary.

The ARC recommended a two-tiered machinery comprising the Lokpal and the Lokagukta, the former to deal with complaints against Ministers and states. The Lokayukta, one for the centre and one for each state, should attend to complaints against the rest of the bureaucracy.

First, the Lokpal Bill mooted in 1968 in terms of the recommendations of the Administrative Reforms Commission, the Bill was revised in 1971, 1977, 1985, 1989, 1995 and 1996.

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The Rajiv Gandhi Govt. brought forward the Lokpal Bill in 1985 only to drop it later. In July 1995 the Narsimha Rao Govt. announced its intention to in act the Lokpal Bill. The Dove Gowda Govt. introduced the Lokpal Bill in the Loksabha in September 1996, which however lapsed with the dissolution of the Loksabha.

The Vajapayee Govt. has prepared its own Bill which one must add, marks an improvement on the earlier ones in many ways, It provides for a multi-member committee for the appointment of the Lokpal and the two members the Lokpal as proposed now is to be a three-member body.

The Congress was opposed to the idea of bringing the Chief executive within the purview of the Lokpal. The Narsimha Rao Govt. had shown its agreement not to exclude the chief Executive.

The Vajpayee Govt. enlarges the jurisdiction of the functionary. The proposed Bill envisages the setting up of the Lokpal to examine the charges of corruption leveled against the Prime Minister, the union council of ministers and members of parliament.

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The Vajpayee Govt’s Bill on Lokpal was first considered by the standing committee on Home Affairs. A broad-based body must recommend the name for the office. The time span for examination of charges by the Lokpal must not be unduly restricted.

The Lokpal should examine the charges covering up to a period of the previous ten years. The inquiry should not be conducted in camera but should be held on open. The elected members must declare to the Lokpal their assets within 90 days of the commencement of each financial year and annually thereafter within 90 days. Non-filing or delayed filing of returns or incomplete filing should be visited with deterrent punishment.

The Lokpal institution visualised in India is to be a three member body. These members must be absolutely independent and impartial as both the Prime Minister and the leader of opposition would be within its jurisdiction.

It equally well known, that it is not easy in our courts to prove changes of corruption. The onus of proof must not rest with the accuser. Any such provision is surely to deter any one from invoking the Lokpal.

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Lastly, the Lokpal must be endowed with its independent investigative agency, the CBI being the hand maid of the ruling party.

In India, the Lokpal is visualised as the country’s watch dog institution on ministerial probity but he can be effective only when Viewed as being part of the anti-corruption institutional frame work, its other parts being an autonomous central Bureau of Investigation, effective electoral and administrative reform, abrogation of section 1907 the prevention of corruption Act etc.

For the politician in India, no code of conduct has been formulated so far India does not yet have a regular machinery to book the corrupt politician one must, however, warn that the institution of Lokpal has a fruitful role to play in a system of government which habitually operates at a reasonably high level of integrity, efficiency and devotion.

The smaller the zone of administrative wrongs the Greater is the utility of Lokpal where corruptions is wide spread and efficiency low, the entire administration needs to be revamped, and this, institution is hardly a sufficient cure for such a state of affairs. The institution of Lokpal is not a substitute for administrative reform.

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