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Ombudsman

An ombudsman is an official who is charged with representing the interests of the public by investigating and addressing complaints of maladministration or a violation of rights. It is an authority appointed by the government and even by the private bodies. An ombudsman is an intermediate person who tries to resolve the complaints which one party has raised against the other. He is appointed to safeguard citizens against abuse or misuse of administrative power by the executive.

Their task is to resolve the complaint in a peaceful manner. Generally, the service consumers are meant to get benefitted from this. We as a consumers or investors, are blessed to have this tool called the ombudsman, at our disposal to raise complaints against a particular service which has been offered to us and to make sure any wrongdoing is investigated properly and possibly corrected. For any complaint which has come to him, an ombudsman is supposed to provide quick, neutral, and cost effective justice.

He tries to bring the issue or the complaint of the consumer to the service provider's notice so that it can be resolved. It becomes beneficial both to the complainant as well as to the service provider.

Origin and history:
Ombudsman is derived from a Swedish word[1] meaning 'a grievance person' and is referred in the oxford dictionary as the 'people's defender'. The root of the word ombudsman can be traced to 'umboosmaor' or 'umbothsmathr', meaning in the old Norse language as 'representative'. The Indian expression Lokpal was coined by Dr. L. M. Singhvi in the year 1963. In India the ombudsman is also known as the Lokpal or Lokayukta. It is mainly an anti-corruption ombudsman of the country.

A Lokpal is at the center and a separate Lokayukta's are there for each state. Earlier the concept of ombudsman was not adapted by India but over a period of time, there was an increase in the need for establishing a complaints and grievance redressal mechanism. [2]The administration enjoyed a vast reservoir of powers and which had started affecting the daily lives of the people. It was becoming difficult for common man to get justice as he was becoming the victim of administrative and political corruption. So there was a need for providing an institution which can effectively deal with the cases of corruption and maladministration and to which the citizens may turn to without any expenses or formalities.

In India, an Administrative Reforms Commission was set up in 1966 under the chairmanship of Shri Morarji Desai, recommended as two � tier setup: A Lokpal at the center and a Lokayukta in each state. A Bill for the appointment of a Lokpal and one or more Lokayuktas was introduced in parliament in 1968. It was passed by Lok Sabha in 1969 but it lapsed when the Lok Sabha was dissolved in 1971.

The Janta Government then introduced a new Bill in 1977 and the Bill met with the same fate. Subsequently, Lokpal Bills were introduced in 1985, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2005 and in 2008 yet they were never passed. In 2011, there was an anti � corruption movement led by the social activist, Anna Hazare were in he made demand for a stronger Lokpal and proposed a Jan Lokpal Bill as an alternate to the Lokpal Bill proposed by then ruling Congress Government in 2010. Following massive protests all over the country, including those led by Anna Hazare, [3]finally the Lokpal and Lokayukta Bill was passed by Rajya Sabha on 17th December, 2013 and by Lok Sabha on 18th December, 2013. On 1st June, 2014 it received the assent of the President Pranab Mukherjee and it came into force on January 16, 2014.

After the Lokpal Act was passed in 2013, [4]Pinaki Chandra Ghose, former judge at the Indian Supreme Court and a member of National Human Rights Commission (HRC), had been appointed as the county's first anti � corruption ombudsman or chairman of the Lokpal.

In India, ombudsman exists mainly for sectors like banking, insurance, income tax and other sectors as well. So one can approach the banking ombudsman for banking related complaints, insurance ombudsman for insurance related complaints and the income tax ombudsman for income tax related complaints.

Banking Ombudsman:
The Banking Ombudsman Scheme was first introduced in India in the year 1995, and was revised in 2002 and in 2006. At present, the Banking Ombudsman Scheme 2006 (as amended upto July 1, 2017) is in operation. The scheme is introduced by RBI under Section 35A of the Banking Regulations Act 1949, in public interest. It is introduced with an object of enabling resolution of complaints relating to certain services rendered by banks and to enable the satisfaction or settlements of such complaints. This scheme covers all banks such as Private sector, Public sector, Co-operative banks, Regional Rural Banks (RRBs) etc.

Appointment:
The Reserve Bank of India (RBI) may appoint one or more of its officers in the rank of Chief General Manager or General Manager as Banking Ombudsman to carry out the functions assigned to them by or under the scheme[5].

How does the Banking Ombudsman works?
  • In case of a grievance, the costumer has to approach his bank and lodge a complaint. One cannot go to the baking ombudsman directly.
  • If no reply is received within one month from the bank, them the costumer can approach the ombudsman.
  • Such complaint has to be made to the ombudsman within one year from the time the bank has replied to the costumer.
  • The settlement of the complaint by an ombudsman is to be made in one month.
  • If the complaint is not settled with an agreement within a period of one month from the date of receipt of the complaint he may, after affording the parties a reasonable opportunity to present their case, pass an Award or reject the complaint.
  • If still the costumer is not satisfied then one can forward the complaint to consumer courts.
     
Grounds of complaint:
Any person can file a complaint with banking ombudsman relating to deficiencies in banking services, including internet banking or other services[6
  • Non-payment or inordinate delay in the payment or collection of cheques, drafts, bills etc
  • Non-acceptance, without sufficient cause, of small denomination notes tendered for any purpose, and for charging of commission in respect thereof
  • Failure to issue or delay in issue of drafts, pay orders or bankers' cheques
  • Refusal to open deposit accounts without any valid reason for refusal
  • Levying of charges without adequate prior notice to the customer, etc.
In the case of [7]Balla Rama Rao v. Office of the Baking Ombudsman it was held that, the powers and functions and jurisdiction of the Banking Ombudsman are clearly delineated and defined. He cannot act outside the purview of the scheme. It also stated that, the powers and duties of the Banking Ombudsman will be in relation to the banking services.

Banking is defined as accepting, for the purpose of lending or investment, of deposits of money from the public, repayable on demand or otherwise and withdrawable by cheque, draft, order or otherwise. So the service rendered by a banking company in relation to its banking operations is a banking service and the Banking Ombudsman will be dealing with only those matters.

Insurance Ombudsman:
The institution of Insurance Ombudsman was created by the Government of India in Notification dated 11th November,1998 for the purpose of quick disposal of the grievances of the insured customers and to solve their problems involved in redressal of those grievances. Insurance Ombudsman is of great importance for the protection of interests of policy holders.

Appointment:
The governing body of insurance council issues orders of appointment of the insurance Ombudsman on the recommendations of the committee comprising of Chairman of IRDA, Chairman of LIC, Chairman of GIC and a representative of the Central Government[8].

How does the Insurance Ombudsman works?
  • In case of a grievance, the complainant first has to approach his/her insurance company
  • If the insurance company did not respond within a period of one month or if the complainant is not satisfied with the response of the company then in that case he can approach the ombudsman.
  • Such complaint has to be made to the ombudsman within one year from the time the insurance company has replied.
  • Initially the ombudsman will act as a mediator and arrive at a fair recommendation based on the facts of the dispute. Such recommendations shall be made within a period of one month from receiving the complaint by an ombudsman.
  • If the settlement by recommendation does not work then the ombudsman will pass an award within a period of three months from the receipt of the complaint and such award will be binding on the insurance company.
  • If the policy holder is still not satisfied then he can approach to Consumer Forums and Courts of law for redressal of their grievances.

Grounds of complaint[9]:
  • Delay in settlement of claims, beyond the time specified in the regulations, framed under the IRDAI Act,1999.
  • Any partial or total repudiation of claims by the life insurer, general insurer or the health insurer
  • Any dispute about premium paid or payable in terms of insurance policy
  • Misrepresentation of the terms and conditions of the policy at any time in the policy document or policy contract, etc.

In the case of [10]Life Insurance Corporation of India and Anr. v. The Insurance Ombudsman and Ors., the question arose was whether an insurance company can challenge or file a writ petition against the decision or award of the Insurance Ombudsman. Over this the IRDA stated that, it does not provide an opportunity or a licence to the insurer to challenge the award of the Insurance Ombudsman in any proceedings. It urges the insurers to honour it.

Income Tax Ombudsman:
The institution of Income Tax Ombudsman was set up in the year 2003 to deal with the grievances of public related to the settlement of complaints relating to income tax. However, in 2019 February the Union Cabinet decided to abolish institutions of ombudsman for income tax and indirect tax. A press release issued by the Cabinet stated that the ombudsman had 'failed in its objectives'. It stated that the number of new complaints had fallen to single digits, implying that fewer aggrieved taxpayers were approaching these agencies.

Alternative methods of grievance redressal for the settlement of complaints relating to income tax are Centralised Public Grievance Redress and Monitoring System, and Aykar Seva Kendras. Also e-Nivaran is an online grievance filing system which is supplementary to Centralised Public Grievance Redress and Monitoring System and Aykar Seva Kendras.

Conclusion:
Institution of ombudsman has been very effective to the general public as they have gotten a platform through which their grievance can get redress. The Ombudsman has enough powers vested in them to pass awards and verdicts through which they can resolve the matter of the consumers in time and in cost effective manner. They also safeguard the rights of individuals against maladministration, abuse of power or violations of fundamental human rights by the public authorities subject to his jurisdiction.

End-Notes:
  1. Hemant More, Ombudsman, The Fact Factor (October 24, 2019), https://thefactfactor.com/facts/law/civil_law/administrative-law/ombudsman/4268/
  2. M. P. Jain & S. N. Jain, Principles of Administrative Law 2106
  3. Advaithar7, Lokpal, Legal Service India, http://www.legalserviceindia.com/legal/article-50-lokpal.html
  4. Prabhjote Gill, India gets its first anti-corruption ombudsman, Business Insider (March 20, 2019, 09:16 IST), https://www.businessinsider.in/what-is-lokpal-chaired-by-panaki-chandra-ghose/articleshow/68491453.cms
  5. The Banking Ombudsman Scheme, rbi.org.in, 3 (2006 As amended upto July1, 2017)
  6. The Banking Ombudsman Scheme, rbi.org.in, 5-8 (2006 As amended upto July1, 2017)
  7. Balla Rama Rao v. Office of the Baking Ombudsman, 117 CompCas 201 (2003)
  8. Insurance Regulatory And Development Authority of India, https://www.irdai.gov.in/ADMINCMS/cms/NormalData_Layout.aspx?page=PageNo233&mid=7.1
  9. Insurance Regulatory And Development Authority of India, https://www.irdai.gov.in/ADMINCMS/cms/NormalData_Layout.aspx?page=PageNo233&mid=7.1
  10. Life Insurance Corporation of India and Anr. v. The Insurance Ombudsman and Ors. (Calcutta High Court:2017)


    Award Winning Article Is Written By: Ms.Neha Anil Joglekar
    Awarded certificate of Excellence
    Authentication No: SP36043575384-22-0921

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