Move follows thirty years of government inaction in investigating top-level corruption
After thirty years of broken promises, civil society in India has taken into its own hands the initiative to establish a federal ombudsman. Recognising the absence of a political will to establish effective anti-corruption institutions in India, TI India and Lok Sevak Sangh, two major Indian civil rights NGOs, have decided to set up a People's Ombudsman Commission to investigate high- level cases of corruption and abuse of power.
The civil society initiative comes in the wake of another move by the parliamentary majority to put on hold the creation of a federal ombudsman, an institution first promised in 1968. One of the main functions of the proposed office - and in fact of the People's Ombudsman Commission - would be to investigate charges of corruption and abuse of power against the Prime Minister, members of the union government and members of the federal parliament. Currently, even India's Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) is not empowered to investigate cases against any MP or union minister without prior government approval.
The need for the unprecedented move was explained by the Chairman of TI India, S.D. Sharma, who stated that "The concerned citizens, the concerned jurists and journalists, the like-minded NGOs, have a duty to perform when Government, political parties and Parliament have failed to act."
The Commission of three senior retired judges is to be backed by a Citizens Vigilance Committee consisting of seven lawyers. "This Vigilance Committee shall process any complaint, backed by a duly sworn affidavit, that may be received from any individual or institution aggrieved against any MP, Union Minister or Governor", a statement issued by TI India says. The Citizens Vigilance Committee would report its findings to the Ombudsman Commission, which would in turn give a verdict on the evidence presented. If the Ombudsman Commission finds the case to be substantiated, the Vigilance Committee would then seek to file a public interest petition before the High Court or the Supreme Court for further criminal investigations.
TI India and Lok Sevak Sangh are backing their unprecedented step by citing the inappropriate handling of corruption cases in the past. "The citizens of this country have watched with dismay the corruption cases going on in courts against a former Prime Minister, a few Chief Ministers, Union Ministers and MPs," the statement says. "Skilful lawyers with no qualms of conscience are defending them and there is no prospect of any of them being punished according to law. Meanwhile they are all out on bail and very much active in politics as if they have been honourably acquitted. The citizens have witnessed helplessly the unprecedented criminalisation of politics and the politicisation of crime."
Commenting on the civil society initiative in India, TI Chairman Peter Eigen said, "In normal circumstances our movement is careful to avoid investigating individual cases, preferring to monitor the effectiveness of state institutions with relevant responsibility. However, in the face of what appears to be wilful obstruction of a reform promised by the Prime Minister of India, civil society cannot be expected to remain silent or idle."
Eigen noted that the initiative is careful to provide protection for individuals against malicious and false accusations of corruption. "This is entirely in accordance with TI's beliefs," he said.
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