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Ombudsman is an effective mechanism that can protect a person from administrative flaws. The term ombudsman in terms of utility means a “watchdog of the administration” or the protector of the little man”. This institution was first developed in Sweden in 1809 and soon became a cherished importable commodity the world over. It is a unique institution which leads to an “open government” by providing a democratic control mechanism over the powers of the state. Its main catch is its apparent effectiveness despite minimal coercive capabilities.
Conceptually, an ombudsman is only a non-adversarial adjudicator of disputes. He serves as an alternative to the adversary system for resolving disputes, especially between citizens and government agencies. He is an independent and non-partisan officer who deals with the specific complaints from the public against administrative injustice and maladministration. Certainly, an adversarial adjudication by courts necessarily stands on a higher plane than a decision by ombudsman. Therefore if a matter is pending before a court, ombudsman cannot exercise jurisdiction. (Durga Hotel Complex vs. Reserve Bank of India, (2007) 5 SCC 120).
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 deficit in the country. Finally this law got enacted through a notification in Gazette in the year 2014. Although till date no Lokpal has been appointed.
It must be ensured that the law pertaining to ombudsman is in consonance with the constitution of India and it must uphold rule of law. It should also not transgress the basic feature of our constitution. It should always be kept in mind that Lokpal cannot be designed as a super legislature, executive and judiciary without any representative and responsive character.
Though the birth of an ombudsman in the Centre is still doubtful, but for the states it has become a cherished institution. The institution of Lokayukta is functioning in 13 States. These States are Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Bihar, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, Orissa, Punjab and Haryana. Delhi has also established the institution of ombudsman.
Some of the reason responsible for the failure of this institution in India include lack of political will to root out corruption, politicization of appointment of Lokayukta, lack of infrastructural facilities, lack of administrative cooperation and political apathy, lack of independent investigatory machinery and advisory nature of recommendations, etc.
To some extent the institution itself is responsible for its failure. Fact remains that any other institution can be easily destroyed by lack of political will and bureaucratic apathy. Personal interest and not the public interest is still the suprema lex. Remedy against administrative faults must be preventive and punitive both.