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The Evolution of the Institution of Ombudsman in India

Corruption is all-pervasive and efforts are constantly being made to control corruption. The institution of ombudsman becomes essential toda when corruption has become Governance”>a major concern of the public. Anti-corruption bodies in India like the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) have been termed as caged parrot and its master’s voice by the Supreme Court of India. Similarly, many other anti-corruption agencies are hardly independent, and act as mere advisory bodies with their advice seldom being followed.

The concept of ombudsman is not new, but with the rise in complexity of the social structure and the stringent nature of the judiciary, this branch has gained paramount importance. Ombudsman being a protector of the administration has to investigate maladministration causing injustice. In this context, an independent institution of the Lokpal has been a landmark move in the history of Indian polity as it offered a solution to the never-ending menace of corruption.

Historical Evolution of Lokpal in India

In India, the concept of constitutional ombudsman was first proposed in the Parliament in the early 1960s. The then law minister, Ashok Kumar Sen introduced it for the first time. In response to that, the first Administrative Reforms Commission (ARC) recommended the establishment of independent authorities; one at the central and the other at the state level, to probe into complaints against public functionaries, including the Members of the Parliaments. In 1968, the Lokpal bill was passed in the Lok Sabha but lapsed with the dissolution of Lok Sabha. Since then, it has lapsed in the Lok Sabha many times. Until 2011, all the eight attempts that were made to pass the Bill met with failure.

In 2002, the Commission to Review the Working of the Constitution headed by M.N. Venkatachaliah recommended the appointment of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas; also recommended that the PM be kept out of the ambit of the authority. In 2005, the second Administrative Reforms Commission chaired by Veerappa Moily recommended that the office of Lokpal should be established without delay.

Anna Hazare pressurized the then government at Centre (United Progressive Alliance), in a movement under his leadership, India against corruption movement. He called for a legislation to bring public servants under the ambit of prosecution in cases of maladministration. In the light of the agitation, steps were taken by government to draft the Lokpal Bill, which resulted in the passing of the Lokpal and Lokayuktas Bill, 2013, in both the Houses of Parliament. On 1st January 2014, it got assent from President and on 16th January 2014, it came into force.

Institutional Inefficiency

The institution of Lokpal has been constantly trying to bring a much needed change in the fight against corruption regarding administrative structure of the country, meanwhile there are lacunae and loopholes which need to be sorted out. Delay in appointment is another issue which leads to inefficiency of the institution. Apex court has time and again, impelled the states to appoint Lokayukta, who haven’t yet. The said act also directed the states to assign a Lokayukta as soon as it came into force. In spite of that, only 16 states made the Lokayukta.

The appointing committee consists of members from political parties. Therefore, it can be said that political influence is present in Lokpal commissioning. Its appointment of Lokpal can be arbitrary and without reason, in a way as no criterion has been determined to decide a person of integrity or an eminent jurist. The Lokpal act of 2013 did not extend absolute immunity to the whistle blowers. There is a provision that inquiry will initiate against the complainant, if the alleged person is found innocent. This leads to discouragement from complaining.

The biggest lacuna is that the judiciary is excluded from the scope of the Lokpal. Neither constitutional status has been given to Lokpal, which is why no efficient provision for appeal is provided against it.

Amendment of the Lokpal Act, 2016: A Setback

An amendment of the Lokpal Act law was passed, which precluded spouses of public servants and children who are dependent from revelation of assets and liabilities, and provided that the form and manner of unveiling by public servants would be chosen by the government. Since it is not possible to catch people while accepting the bribe by laying the trap, the 2016 amendment was regressive. Possession of asset disproportionate is a common practice in India, in which one registers the assets in the name of spouses and dependent children.

In 2018, the Lokpal Act was in the news in connection with the controversy in the CBI. Former director Alok Verma and his deputy Rakesh Asthana got into a tussle asserting allegations of corruption on each other. The action against Verma was illicit as the appointment and removal of the CBI director cannot be done merely by action of Centre, but needs to be done by a committee having three members, consisting of the Prime Minister, the leader of the largest opposition party and the Chief Justice of India or any judge of the Supreme Court nominated by him.

Measures to Combat Inefficiencies

In order to curb the corruption in this country, the institution of Lokpal needs to become stronger with respect to both functional autonomy and manpower availability. It is required that enormous transparency and empowerment of citizens is ensured, and at the same time greater right to information be given to them. A good leadership is another important factor, since it is very crucial that the leaders too subject themselves to the public inspection. It is imperative that the government addresses the issues coming up in the functioning of Lokpal, and the outcome envisaged is met. Only appointing the Lokpal is not sufficient, better implementation is required.

To improve governance, it is required to follow the slogan in letter and spirit, adopted by the government of less government and more governance. There is a need for decentralization of this institution with suitable accountability mechanisms. It is necessary to avoid the excessive concentration of power, under any one authority or institution.

Although it covers all the public servants including government employees, judges, MPs, Ministers, and the Prime Minister, in practice, it hardly affects them. They hardly have any accountability for their actions even after their reality opens up in public and no probe is initiated against them. Thus, it is needed that this institution should be given a status of an independent body just like the three branches of government in order to function fearlessly and with utmost discretion.

The focus on e-governance and systemic change can also be helpful as it will result into more transparency, thus reduced corruption. It improves accountability as budgets and progress report of major public projects are available in the public domain. Moreover, accountability is also important to keep a check on the powers of Lokpal and Lokayukta that they do not use their position to carry out illegal activities. Additionally, more stringent and serious measures should be introduced in the Lokpal Act.


The institution of ombudsman can efficaciously ameliorate mechanism against the grievances arising out of the evils of corruption and maladministration. Even though six years have passed, no effective actions have been performed as of yet. It was only recently in 2019 that the Lokpal was appointed. It still seems inapt in curbing the problem of corruption. The anti-corruption bodies need to be made independent in order to deliver their functions fearlessly.

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