An ombudsman, central vigilance commission (CVC), Lokpal, and Lokayukt are important institutions aimed at ensuring accountability, transparency and efficient grievance redressal in public administration in India. They investigate complaints of corruption, maladministration and abuse of power against public officials and authorities. This blog analyzes the key features, roles, appointment processes, limitations of the ombudsman, CVC, Lokpal and Lokayukt in detail.
The ombudsman, derived from Swedish word “ombuds” meaning agent or representative, is an independent and impartial quasi-judicial institution that investigates complaints of citizens against administrative actions and inactions of public functionaries. The Administrative Reforms Commission in 1966 first recommended establishing the institution to supplement the overburdened courts in ensuring administrative justice.
Also Read: Notes on Administrative Law
Functions and Powers
The key functions of the ombudsman include:
- Investigating allegations of corruption, maladministration, abuse of power and discretion against government officials based on complaints.
- Recommending disciplinary or remedial action where necessary.
- Mediating fair settlements and redressal between citizens and administration.
- Undertaking suo moto investigations and inspections.
The wide-ranging powers of the ombudsman include examining witnesses, ordering production of documents, conducting spot inspections, appointing experts for assistance and suggesting systemic improvements. As per the Andhra High Court ruling in A.P. Ombudsman Vs. Sri Kutumba Rao, the ombudsman also has power to award compensation to aggrieved citizens.
Appointment and Removal
The ombudsman is appointed by the state government in consultation with the chief justice of the High Court. The person appointed must be either a retired Supreme Court or High Court judge or an officer qualified for such judgeship. To ensure independence, security of tenure is provided wherein the ombudsman can be removed only through the same process as a high court judge.
The non-binding recommendations of the ombudsman are the main limitations. While regularly published investigation reports naming erring officials build public pressure, the concerned government departments often ignore the recommendations without adequate explanation or justification. Lack of awareness among citizens about the institution also hinders its optimal impact.
THE CENTRAL VIGILANCE COMMISSION
The Central Vigilance Commission (CVC) was established in 1964 based on the recommendations of the Santhanam Committee to advise and guide central government agencies in vigilance related matters. It has the status of an autonomous statutory body.
- The key functions performed by CVC include:
- Overseeing and coordinating vigilance activities under central government.
- Advising various authorities on planning and executing reforms to address corruption and maladministration.
- Inquiring into complaints of corruption, misconduct and abuse of power against central government officials based on complaints as well as suo moto.
- Overseeing functioning of Central Bureau of Investigation with respect to cases referred for inquiry to CBI.
Appointment and Removal
The central vigilance commissioner and other commissioners are appointed by the President on recommendation of a committee consisting of the Prime Minister, Home Minister and Leader of Opposition in Lok Sabha. They can be removed by the President on grounds of misbehaviour or incapacity, only after a Supreme Court inquiry on reference by the President.
CVC’s recommendations are advisory in nature and government departments can reject them without sufficient justification. It lacks adequate resources and financial autonomy. CVC also cannot direct investigations suo moto against senior officials above joint secretary rank without departmental permission, thus hindering its independent functioning.
The Lokpal is an anti-corruption authority envisioned as an independent body to inquire into allegations of corruption against public functionaries in the Union Government with its roots in the 1966 ARC report. However, the long delays in its operationalization led the Supreme Court to intervene and issue directives for establishing Lokpal by framing a law.
Composition and Appointment
As per the Lokpal Act 2013, the Lokpal is chaired by a former Chief Justice or Judge of Supreme Court and includes judges, Chief Justice of High Court, officers with impeccable integrity and at least two eminent persons nominated by a high-level selection committee. 50% of the Members are Judicial Members.
The Lokpal chairperson and members are appointed by the President on recommendations of a selection committee comprising the PM, Lok Sabha Speaker, Leader of Opposition, Chief Justice of India and an eminent jurist nominated by the President.
Jurisdiction and Powers
The Lokpal has jurisdiction over offences involving public servants under the Prevention of Corruption Act, 1988. Its powers include superintendence over Delhi Special Police Establishment, conducting preliminary inquiry and full investigation through any agency, prosecution of cases, and recommendation of penalties and punishments. Appeals against Lokpal orders lie directly in Supreme Court.
While the operationalization of Lokpal is a landmark step in anti-corruption efforts, concerns persist such as non-inclusion of prime minister under Lokpal ambit except regarding international treaties, discretionary exclusion of certain public servants notified by the government, lack of financial and functional autonomy from government control.
Inspired by Sweden’s Ombudsman system, the Lokayukta or Ombudsman system was established at State-level in India to redress citizens’ grievances against public functionaries and check corruption, nepotism and maladministration. The 1973 Rajasthan Lokayukta law was the first such law.
Composition and Appointment
Lokayukta is generally headed by a former Supreme Court or High Court Chief Justice or Judge, and includes members with impeccable integrity and special knowledge of law or public administration. In some states, Lokayukta chairperson has the rank of a Supreme Court Judge and members rank of High Court Chief Justice.
Lokayukta members are appointed by the Governor on advice of Chief Minister, Chief Justice of the High Court and in consultation with the State Leader of Opposition.
Powers and Functions
The Lokayukta’s functions involve probing administrative actions and allegations of corruption, favoritism, abuse of power and misconduct based on complaints or suo moto, and recommending suitable action to concerned competent authorities. The Lokayukta Act in many states empowers it to ensure satisfactory public service delivery and address systemic deficiencies and maladministration. Its quasi judicial powers include issuing search warrants, attachment and confiscation of property, ordering compliance and levying penalties.
While the Supreme Court has termed state Lokayuktas as ‘watchdogs against corruption’, many states have failed to establish an independent and empowered Lokayukta. Non-binding recommendations which are frequently disregarded by the government without repercussion, inadequate staffing, lack of financial autonomy are some limitations impeding its effective functioning in many states.
Suggested Reform Measures
To enhance independence and effectiveness of these anti-corruption institutions, reform measures are imperative such as:
- Independent, merit-based and transparent appointment process under Lokpal Act.
- Establishing adequate infrastructure, financial, and staffing support systems.
- Vesting adequate enforcement and sanction powers for autonomous functioning.
- Strengthening capacity to utilize technology and innovative methods in investigation.
- Conducting regular independent performance audits.
- Addressing delays in selection committees and appointments.
- Expanding authority over wider range of public servants.
- Enacting Whistleblower Protection Act.
- Increasing awareness among citizens regarding legal rights and duties.
An empowered and independent anti-corruption framework safeguards citizens’ rights in public services, ensures accountability and effectiveness of administration. Thus apart from facilitating inclusive growth, establishing robust institutions like ombudsman, CVC, Lokpal and Lokayukt boosts transparency, checks abuse of power and upholds constitutionalism. However, much ground needs to be covered in terms of optimal resourcing and true autonomy of these bodies. As the Supreme Court asserted, “If Lokpal is to be effective, it needs to be appropriately empowered and enabled to discharge its onerous duties”.