Ombudsmanship: An efficacious remedy

Around the world, currently, there is an increasing interest in the institution of Ombudsmanship and its working. An official appointed to investigate the complaint by individuals against mal-administration, especially by public authorities is introduced in Sweden in 1809, in Denmark in 1954 and Norvey in 1962 and spread to other countries from 1960’s. Truly speaking, […]

Around the world, currently, there is an increasing interest in the institution of Ombudsmanship and its working. An official appointed to investigate the complaint by individuals against mal-administration, especially by public authorities is introduced in Sweden in 1809, in Denmark in 1954 and Norvey in 1962 and spread to other countries from 1960’s. Truly speaking, it is being treated and employed as an Alternative Dispute Resolution Forum. In many UNO Member-States, it is used, successfully as an efficacious Redressal Forum.

It is felt that the office of ‘Lokayukt’ is not equipped with requisite machinery and powers. It is, therefore, said that their verdicts are always, not respected by the authorities. If the disputes are resolved without the intervention of the Court, at the level of such institution, whatever the name be given to it, the burden of existing traditional system of Civil Justice will be reduced. In view of the existing heavy workload in the system of Civil Justice, in various countries, the concept of Alternative Dispute Resolution has been accepted. In India, the Draconian Docket Explosion, high expenses, astronomical arrears and slow motion in disposal, an effective mechanism of Alternative Disputes Resolution is not a call, but should be a creed.

It is imperative. It is, in this context, the institution of Ombudsman needs to be examined and established as a part of Civil Justice Reform Strategy. Civil Justice reform and reorganization of Civil Courts should be taken on priority basis in order to efficaciously meet the public criticism that justice is too slow, inaccessible, very expensive and extremely complex in its process.

“Too many cases of relatively low importance, substance and complexity were being handled and tried at an inappropriately high level. This is wasteful of High Court resources.”

Notwithstanding that, in view of the heavy backlog and new cases coming to the civil courts with limited resources and number of judicial functionaries, the concept and philosophy of institution of Ombudsman as an additional idea will help to reduce the overburdened civil courts, if implemented, seriously and satisfactorily by the public functionaries and authorities. In the recent past, it has been noticed that there is a remarkable evolution and growth world-wide interest in the Ombudsmanship, since it has proved to be an effective idea or mechanism.

The office of Ombudsman in so far as its main working is concerned, is known by different names and nomenclatures in different countries with varying extent and powers. It is known as :-

1. Ombudsman in Scandinavian countries.
2. Parliamentary Commissioner in UK,
3. Custodian of Public Interest,
4. Citizen Defender in some Countries,
5. Protector of Rights.
6. Mediator or Arbitrator
7. Protector of Little Man and watchdog of people.

The concept of Ombudsman is, in reality, one of the ideas which could be accepted and the flower of freedom will blossom only in the garden of virtues, has not been unfortunately, successfully observed in many countries like, India. If the concept of Ombudsman is established and implemented in Government Departments, Public Undertakings, Banking and Insurance Sectors, a large number of issues and disputes could be resolved at that level resulting into the relief and less pressure of work on the civil justice system.

The very expression “democracy’ is two Greek words “demos” (by the people) and “kratos” (rule) in the Assembly of Athens, first regarded democracy, citizens voted directly on laws.

In modern democracies, people vote periodically to elect representatives to run the Government. Those who take Governmental decisions and identity of those whose interest are served by the decisions are the yardsticks used to assess the nature, the status and the prestige of the democracy. Political democracy aim to equity before law and equity of law, free speech, freedom of Press and protection from arbitrary administrative decisions. It also involves checks and balances to ensure proper functioning of the system. With all that the democracy is fraught with acknowledged viles and weaknesses. In functioning democracies and inherent contradiction in the system is that the majority rule principle with inevitable emphasis on mediocrity often runs into conflict with the freedom of the talented.

It was also learnt that this concept is extended, at times, at the level of schools, college Unions, college libraries, as an important redressel of grievances of mechanism. Therefore, it hasbeen said that the role and the job of Ombudsman, at times, is like a Leader of Opposition. When mal-administration, misadministration and subjective administration is on increase, so that there will be restraint and check on such governance.

The idea of Ombudsman is gaining popularity since it gives citizen a safeguard against mal-administration, which is in addition to the traditional system of court and Tribunal. A further check on abuse of power by the Government Departments is created by the appointment of Parliamentary Commissioner for administration (Ombudsman) under the provisions of Parliamentary Commissioner Act, 1967, an English Administrative mechanism . The Commissioner is appointed by the Crown and have the security of tenure as a Judge of the Supreme Court. He is also a member of the Council of the Tribunals. His main function is to investigate complaints relating to exercise of administrative powers.

In Australia and New Zealand, this institution is gaining popularity. In Switzerland the Commissioner of Society proposes the appointment of both civil and military Ombudsman.

This institution was, strongly, recommended for Cylon in 1966 in colloquium on rule of law which was attended by about 100 jurists from Asean and Pacific Region. Latin Americans have concurred that such institution suit their conditions. Therefore, in July 1967, the Jamaican section of International Commission of Jurists proposed plan for Jamaica for such an institution.

The concept of Ombudsman evolved in Sweden, as early as, in 1809, is gaining now, momentum and importance, all over the world since ADR mechanism since Ombudsman functions as an arbiter or inter-mediator to redress the grievances against the Government or the authority public or private, without complexity of procedure and further higher tiers.

It must receive serious attention in a democratic, republic, secular, socialist, welfare State like India. If this Institution and concept is effectively established, it will, undoubtedly provide a great relief to the over-burdened civil legal system.

An Ombudsman should be regarded as an important new addition to the armory of democratic Government. Much water has flown after the publication of special report of the Indian Administrative Reforms Commission in October 1966 proposing Ombudsman for India and despite unbreakable backlog of cases involving civil disputes and in civil justice system, no serious attention seems to have been given to this concept in our country. In various countries, the system of Ombudsman, has been, successfully, implemented reducing the burden on the civil legal system. In some countries like Finland and Sweden, office of Ombudsman is, successfully, working calling for needs and assistance because of large number of complaints received by such office. In Sweden also this system is very well functioning. In Canada two provincial Ombudsman are in operation since 1967.

Indubitably, the office of Ombudsmanship is a very effective mechanism of ADR which has, successfully, proved to be an efficient, important and effective defender of faceless and voiceless, illiterate and indigent, downtrodden and under-privileged, tromatised and tormented, stigmatized and tortuous, mentally and physically challenged individuals.

Therefore, this concept and philosophy of Ombudsmanship for the redressal of the disputes and grievances needs more attention and employment in service of redressal more so when unbreakable backlog is a great treat to the administration of justice in India. Let this caveat reach to right ears for early actions.

Devendra Pratap Singh, Advocate, Supreme Court of India