Table of Contents
Central Council of Ministers
The Constitution of India states that there shall be a Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister at the head to aid and advise the President in the exercise of his functions. The President shall exercise his powers according to the advice of the Council of Ministers. However, the President can tell the Council of Ministers to reconsider the advice given by the Council of Ministers, but the President will act according to the advice sent after the reconsideration.
Members of the Council of Ministers are appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister. While selecting the ministers, the Prime Minister keeps in mind that due representation to different regions of the country, to various religious and caste groups. In a coalition government, the members of coalition parties have to be given due representation in the Council of Ministers. The Prime Minister decides portfolios of the Ministers and can alter these at his will.
Nature of Advice by Ministers
Article 74 of the Constitution lays down that there shall be a Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister at the head to aid and advise the President in the exercise of his functions. Acceptance by the President of the advice tendered by the Council of Ministers has become obligatory particularly after the 42nd and 44th Constitutional Amendments. Article 74 also clearly states that the advice tendered by ministers to the President shall not be inquired into in any court. This provision emphasises the intimate and the confidential relationship between the President and the ministers.
However, the President can tell the Council of Ministers to reconsider the advice given by the Council of Ministers after the 44th Constitutional Amendment, but the President will act according to the advice sent after the reconsideration. In other words, the 44th Amendment Act of the Constitution empowers the President to send back any matter for reconsideration by the Council of Ministers.
In 1971, the Supreme Court held that “even after the dissolution of the Lok Sabha, the Council of Ministers does not cease to hold office. Article 74 is mandatory and, therefore, the President cannot exercise the executive power without the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers. The President’s exercise of any executive power without the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers would be unconstitutional as being violative of Article 74”. Again, in 1974, the court held that “Whenever the Constitution requires the satisfaction of the President, the satisfaction is not the personal satisfaction of the President, but it is the satisfaction of the Councils of Ministers with whose aid and on whose advice the President exercises his powers and functions”.
Appointment of Ministers
Article 75 of the Constitution lays down that the Prime Minister shall be appointed by the President and the other ministers shall be appointed by the President on the advice
of the Prime Minister. This means that the President can appoint only those persons as ministers who are recommended by the Prime Minister. However, the total number of ministers, including the Prime Minister, in the Council of Ministers shall not exceed 15 percent of the total strength of the Lok Sabha. This provision was added by the 91st Amendment Act of 2003.
The ministers hold office during the pleasure of the President, but they cannot be removed so long as they have the support of the Prime Minister.
In order to be a Minister, a person has to be a member of either of the two Houses of Parliament. Even a person who is not a member of any of the two Houses can become a Minister for a period of six months. But, within six months, he must become a member (either by election or by nomination) of either House of Parliament, otherwise, he ceases to be a minister. Before a minister enters upon his office, the President administers to him the oaths of office and secrecy. Remember that the oath of the Prime Minister and ministers is the same.
A minister who is a member of one House of Parliament has the right to speak and to take part in the proceedings of the other House also, but he can vote only in the House of which he is a member.
According to the Constitution, the salaries and allowances of ministers are determined by Parliament from time to time. A minister gets the salary and allowances that are payable to a member of Parliament. Additionally, he gets a sumptuary allowance (according to his rank), free accommodation, travelling allowance, medical facilities, etc.
Responsibility of Ministers
The Constitution has itself declared that the Council of Ministers shall be responsible to the Lok Sabha (not to both the Houses). Ministerial responsibility is the essential feature of parliamentary form of government. The principle of ministerial responsibility has two dimensions: collective responsibility and individual responsibility.
In our Constitution Article 75 clearly states that the Council of Ministers shall be collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha. It actually means that the Ministers are responsible to the Lok Sabha not as individuals alone, but collectively also. Collective responsibility has two implications. Firstly, it means that every member of the Council of ministers accepts responsibility for each and every decision of the Cabinet. When a decision has been taken by the Cabinet, every Minister has to stand by it without any hesitation. It is the duty of every minister to stand by cabinet decisions and support them both within and outside the Parliament. If a Minister does not agree with the Cabinet decision, the only alternative left to him is to resign from the Council of Ministers.
Secondly, when the Lok Sabha passes a no-confidence motion against the council of ministers, all the ministers have to resign, including those ministers who are from the Rajya Sabha. In other words, vote of no-confidence against the Prime Minister is a vote against the whole of the Council of Ministers.
Article 75 also contains the principle of individual responsibility. Though the ministers are collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha, they are also individually responsible to the Lok Sabha. Individual responsibility is enforced when an action taken by a minister without the concurrence of the Cabinet, or the Prime Minister, is criticised and not approved by Parliament. Similarly, if the personal conduct of a minister is questionable and unbecoming, he may have to resign without affecting the fate of the government. If a minister becomes a liability or an embarrassment to the Prime Minister, he may be asked to quit.
Remember that there is no provision in the Constitution of India for the system of legal responsibility of a minister.
Composition of the Council of Ministers
The Council of Ministers has three categories of Ministers –Cabinet Ministers, Ministers of State and Deputy Ministers. The difference between them lies in their respective ranks, emoluments, and political importance. These Ministers work as a team under the leadership of the Prime Minister.
Cabinet Ministers are typically senior members of the ruling party or coalition of parties. Cabinet Ministers are in charge of the important ministries of the Central Government, such as Home, Finance, Defence, and External Affairs. Cabinet Ministers attend crucial meetings at the central level and play an important role in the nation’s policy formation.
The Ministers of State come next to Cabinet Ministers. Some of the Ministers of State have independent charge of a ministry or department, while other Ministers of State assist the Cabinet Ministers. In case of attachment of cabinet ministers, they may either be given the charge of departments of the ministries headed by the cabinet ministers or allotted specific items of work related to the ministries headed by the cabinet ministers. In both the cases, they work under the supervision and guidance as well as under the overall charge and responsibility of the cabinet ministers. In case independent charge, they perform the same functions and exercise the same powers in relation to their ministries/departments as cabinet ministers do. However, they are not members of the cabinet and do not attend the cabinet meetings unless specially invited when something related to their ministries/departments are considered by the cabinet.
Sometimes even deputy ministers are also appointed to assist the ministers. The Deputy Ministers are not given independent charge of the ministries/departments. They are attached to the cabinet ministers or ministers of state and assist them in their administrative, political, and parliamentary duties.
Ministers other than Cabinet Ministers normally do not attend the meetings of the Cabinet. The Prime Minister presides over the meetings of the Cabinet. All policy matters are decided by the Cabinet. The Prime Minister has the authority to reshuffle the portfolios of the Ministers or even ask for their resignation. In case of resignation or death of the Prime Minister the entire Council of Ministers also goes out of office. This is because the Council of Ministers is created by the Prime Minister, who also heads it.
Council of Ministers Versus Cabinet
The terms “Council of Ministers” and “The Cabinet” are often used as interchangeable
terms. In reality, they are not. Prior to the 44th Amendment of the Constitution, the word “Cabinet” was not mentioned in the Constitution. The differences between the Council of Ministers and the Cabinet are given in the table below.
Council of Ministers
It is a wider body consisting of 60 to 70 ministers.
It is a smaller body consisting of 15 to 25 ministers.
It includes all the three categories of ministers.
It includes the cabinet ministers only. Thus, it is a part of the council of ministers.
It does not meet, as a body, to transact government business. It has no collective functions.
It meets, as a body, frequently and usually once in a week to deliberate and take decisions regarding the transaction of government business. Thus, it has collective body.
It is vested with all powers but in theory.
It exercises, in practice, the powers of the Council of Ministers and thus, acts for the Council of Ministers.
Its functions are determined by the cabinet.
It directs and guides the Council of Ministers by taking policy decisions which are binding on all ministers.
It implements the decisions taken by the cabinet.
It supervises the implementation of its decisions by the Council of Ministers.
It is a constitutional body, dealt in detail by the Art. 74 and 75 of the Constitution.
It was inserted in Article 352 of the Constitution in 1978 by the 44th Constitutional Amendment Act.
It is collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha of the Parliament.
It enforces the collective responsibility of the Council of Ministers to the Lok Sabha of Parliament.
Powers and Functions of the Cabinet
It has enormous powers and manifold responsibilities. All the executive powers of the President are exercised by the Cabinet headed by the Prime Minister. The Cabinet determines and formulates the internal and external policies of the country. It takes all major decisions regarding defence and security of the country. It has also to formulate policies so as to provide better living conditions for the people. Cabinet has control over national finance. The Cabinet is responsible for whole of the expenditure of the government as well for raising necessary revenues. It is the Cabinet that
prepares the text of President’s address to the Parliament. The Cabinet is also responsible for the issuance of Ordinances by the President when the Parliament is not in session. The sessions of the Parliament are convened by the President on the advice of the Cabinet conveyed through the Prime Minister. The Cabinet prepares the agenda of the sessions of the Parliament.
The inner cabinet is a part of the cabinet. The inner cabinet consists of the Prime Minister and two to four influential colleagues in whom he has faith and with whom he can discuss every problem. It advises the prime minister on important political and administrative issues and assists him in making crucial decisions. It is composed of not only cabinet ministers but also outsides like friends and family members of the prime minister.
Every Prime Minister in India has had his ‘Inner Cabinet’–a circle within a circle. During the era of Indira Gandhi, the ‘Inner Cabinet’ which came to be called the ‘Kitchen Cabinet’ was particularly powerful.
The phenomenon of ‘kitchen cabinet’ is not unique to India. It also exists in USA and Britain and is quite powerful in influencing government decisions there.
Cabinet committees are set up by the Prime Minister according to the exigencies of the time and requirements of the situation. Hence, their number, nomenclature, and composition vary from time to time. These committees are of two types: standing and ad hoc. The standing committees are of a permanent nature, while the ad hoc committees are of a temporary nature. Ad hoc committees are constituted from time to time to deal with special problems. They are disbanded after their task is completed.
The number of members of cabinet committees varies from three to eight. They usually include only cabinet ministers. However, the non-cabinet ministers are not debarred from their membership. These committees are not only including the Ministers in charge of subjects covered by them but also include other senior Ministers.
These committees are mostly headed by the Prime Minister. Sometimes other Cabinet Ministers, particularly the home minister or the finance minister, also acts as their chairman. But, in case the Prime Minister is a member of a committee, he invariably presides over it.
These committees are extra-constitutional. In other words, they are not mentioned in the Constitution. However, the Rules of Business provide for their establishment. These committees not sort out issues and formulate proposals for the consideration of the Cabinet, but also take decisions. However, the Cabinet can review their decisions.
To know about the present (2019) cabinet committees and their heads, refer to the table.
Cabinet Committee on Appointments
Cabinet Committee on Accommodation
Union Home Minister
Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs
Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs
Union Home Minister
Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs
Cabinet Committee on Security
Cabinet Committee on Investment
Cabinet Committee on Employment and skill Development