Lokpal a Historical Perspective

Article-Current Affairs December 2012. The success of a democracy and the realization of its socio economic goals depend on the extent to which the grievances of the citizens are redressed

Feb 13, 2012 16:47 IST
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The success of a democracy and the realization of its socio economic goals depend on the extent to which the grievances of the citizens are redressed. The earliest democratic institutions created in the world for the redressal of public grievances was the Scandinavian institution of Ombudsman. The institution of ombudsman in Indian context is referred to as Lokpal or Lokayukta.

The modern state has taken up the activities in all the areas of human endeavour be it developmental (socio economic nation building), non developmental (policing, law and order etc) or symbolic (celebrating national holidays, maintaining museums etc). The rising footprint of the government has meant greater interaction with the citizens and thus grater chances of corruption, favoritism, harassment and abuse of authority. This makes the setting up of an independent institution of ombudsman/Lokpal a clear necessity. It is in this backdrop that the rising demand for a Lokpal by the members of the civil society (Team Anna) must be seen.

Sweden was the first country to set the institution of ombudsman in 1809.This later spread to other Scandinavian countries like Finland, Denmark and Norway. The Sweden model of Lokpal where this institution germinated has very broad powers. It is an institution appointed by the legislature to look into corruption, abuse of discretion, discourtesy, nepotism and inefficiency. Thus the Team Anna cannot be completely criticized for demanding power for the Lokpal beyond the corruption cases. But it should also be kept in mind that India is huge as compared to Scandinavian countries and thus the number of cases coming to Lokpal can get unmanageable.  The Sweden model of Lokpal can prosecute any erring official including the judges but can only recommend the punishment to higher authorities and not inflict any punishment by itself.

In Indian context it was the first Administrative Reforms Commission headed by Morarji Desai that first recommended setting up of Lokpal and Lokayuktas in 1966. The first ARC proposed to keep judiciary out of the preview of Lokpal and included ministers and secretaries of central and state governments. Since then there has been eight official attempts to create this institution by way of legislation. The first such attempt was by Indira Gandhi government in 1968.

While central government is still debating the establishment of such institutions many state governments have already set up Lokayuktas. The first state to do so was Maharashtra in 1971. Orissa passed such an act in 1970 but it came into force only in 1983. The model of Lokayukta varies in different states widely and so does its power and authority. Some states have given suo motu power of investigation to Lokayukta while the others have not. Some states like Uttar  Pradesh  and  Gujrat have judicial qualification prescribed for the institution while states like Bihar and Maharashtra have no such criteria.  Chief Minister is included in the Lokayukta’s jurisdiction in states like Himachal Pradesh and  Madhya Pradesh while it is excluded from states like Bihar and Orissa.  Thus this wide variation calls for some broad uniform enabling law from the central government within which the states can pass their own acts.

Significant changes have taken place in the politico administrative realities of India since its “Tryst with Destiny” started more than sixty years ago. At the turn of 21st Centuary our administration seems to be mired in the charges of corruption, dishonesty, nepotism, elitism and self aggrandizement. An independent and effective Lokpal will act as the bulwark of democratic government against the tyranny of officialdom.  It will be the keeper of public conscience which will increase the faith of citizens in rule of law and help in maturing of our democracy.

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