Critical Analysis of the Role of Ombudsman: Special Reference to India

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Critical Analysis of the Role of Ombudsman: Special Reference to India


“It is not wisdom alone but public confidence in that wisdom which can support an administration” – Thomas Jefferson to James Monroe, 1824

This statement accentuates the eminence of public trust in a system as a test of its administrative efficiency.

Any good administrative system has to be responsible and responsive to the public. Unfortunately with the power bestowed on the bureaucrats it happens more than often that advertently or inadvertently they try to manipulate or deceive the common man. Arbitrary, unjust, unfair, improper and selfish exercise of power by public servants who enjoy power, results into advantage to one and disadvantage to another.

The State today has assumed the role of a facilitator, enabler and regulator. Hence chances of friction between the common man and the govt. have increased. Under such circumstances there are chances that individual justice against administrative faults may become negligent. Here comes into play the role of an Ombudsman.

Definition and Origin:
Ombudsman is derived from the Old Norse (Swedish) word, umbothsmathr; umboth meaning commission and mathr meaning man. Peter Cane propounded that ‘Ombudsman’ “is an official, independent of the administration with power to investigate the citizen’s complaints of maladministration.” The Merrium Webster Dictionary defines ‘ombudsman’ as a government official (as in Sweden or New Zealand) appointed to receive and investigate complaints made by individuals against abuses or capricious acts of public officials. According to Wikipedia, an ombudsman is a person who acts as a trusted intermediary between an organization and some external constituency while representing the broad scope of constituent interests. Usually appointed by the organization, but sometimes elected by the constituency, the ombudsman may, for example, investigate constituent complaints relating to the organization and attempt to resolve them, usually through recommendations (binding or not) or mediation. Ombudsmen sometimes identify organizational roadblocks running counter to constituent interests. ‘Ombudsman’ means “a delegate, agent, officer or commissioner”[1]. A precise definition of Ombudsman is not possible but Garner[2] rightly describes him as “an officer of Parliament, having as his primary function, the duty of acting as an agent for parliament, for the purpose of safeguarding citizens against abuse or misuse of administrative power by the executive.” Ombudsman in terms of utility means a ‘a watchdog of the administration’ or ‘the protector of the little man’.

The genesis of the Ombudsman may be traced as far back as 1809 when the institution was first established by the Swedish which was basically of Scandinavian tradition with a view to raising the standards of modern democratic forms of parliamentary administration. There-after in most countries of the world Ombudsmen were appointed to eradicate mal-administration and corruption.

Need for Ombudsman Machinery:

The three branches of the government: the executive, the legislative and the judiciary, discharge their functions on behalf of the people and for the people.[3] Thus the officers of these three are admittedly accountable to the people, especially in a country like ours with a democratic set-up, where the government is by the people, of the people and for the people.

As the ultimate goal of Administrative Law is to serve the interests of the people, it is imperative that people have faith and confidence in the administrative functioning.

Good governance and administration requires accountability through transparency, right to information, proper check and balance, financial control, effective internal and external audit, official competency, free from corruption, nepotism and undue influence, impartial and just decision in accordance with laws and rules.[4] In today’s world, such ideals...
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