Central Council of Ministers – UPSC Notes – Indian Polity

The Central Council of Ministers, in accordance with the Constitution of India, operates under a parliamentary system modeled after the British system. Under this system, the council of ministers, led by the prime minister, holds the actual executive authority in our politico-administrative framework. While the Constitution does not extensively outline the principles of the parliamentary system, Articles 74 and 75 provide a broad overview. Article 74 delineates the Council of Ministers’ status, while Article 75 covers their appointment, tenure, responsibilities, qualifications, oaths, salaries, and allowances in a general manner.

Constitutional Provisions of Council of Ministers

Article 74 – Council of Ministers to Aid and Advise the President

  1. There exists a Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister to provide assistance and advice to the President. The President is obligated to act in accordance with this advice while performing their functions. However, the President retains the authority to request the Council of Ministers to reconsider their advice, and subsequently, the President must act based on the reconsidered advice.
  2. The advice provided by Ministers to the President is immune from inquiry in any court.

Article 75 – Additional Provisions Regarding Ministers

  1. The President appoints the Prime Minister, and the other Ministers are appointed by the President based on the Prime Minister’s advice.
  2. The total number of ministers, including the Prime Minister, in the Council of Ministers cannot exceed 15% of the total strength of the Lok Sabha, as per the 91st Amendment Act of 2003.
  3. A member of Parliament from any political party who is disqualified due to defection is ineligible to be appointed as a minister, according to the 91st Amendment Act of 2003.
  4. Ministers serve at the pleasure of the President.
  5. The Council of Ministers is collectively accountable to the Lok Sabha.
  6. The President administers the oaths of office and secrecy to ministers.
  7. A minister who is not a member of Parliament for six consecutive months automatically loses their ministerial position.
  8. The Parliament determines the salaries and allowances of ministers.

Article 77 – Procedure for Government Operations in India

  1. All governmental actions within India must be formally conducted in the name of the President.
  2. Orders and instruments enacted under the President’s authority must be properly authenticated as per regulations established by the President. Once authenticated, the validity of such orders or instruments cannot be questioned based on their origin.
  3. The President is empowered to establish regulations to streamline the administration of government affairs in India, including the assignment of tasks among Ministers.

Article 78 – Obligations of the Prime Minister

The Prime Minister is tasked with:

  1. Informing the President about all decisions made by the Council of Ministers regarding the Union’s affairs and legislative proposals.
  2. Supplying the President with any information concerning the Union’s affairs and legislative proposals when requested.
  3. If requested by the President, presenting to the Council of Ministers any matter decided by a Minister but not yet considered by the Council.

Article 88 – Rights of Ministers as Respects the Houses

Article 88 grants ministers the privilege to engage in discussions and activities within either House, joint sittings of the Houses, and any Parliament Committee they’re appointed to. However, they are not permitted to cast votes.

Nature of Advice by Ministers

The role of ministers in advising the President is outlined in Article 74, establishing a council of ministers led by the Prime Minister to assist and offer guidance to the President in carrying out their duties. The 42nd and 44th Constitutional Amendment Acts have made this advice binding upon the President.

Moreover, the nature of advice provided by ministers to the President is deemed beyond the scrutiny of any court, underlining the confidential and close relationship between the President and the ministers.

In 1971, the Supreme Court ruled that even after the dissolution of the Lok Sabha, the council of ministers retains its authority. Article 74 is deemed obligatory, meaning the President cannot wield executive power without the advice of the council of ministers. Any attempt to do so would be unconstitutional.

Similarly, in 1974, the court clarified that when the Constitution mandates the President’s satisfaction, it is not solely the President’s personal satisfaction but the satisfaction of the council of ministers whose advice the President relies upon to exercise their powers and functions.

Appointment of Ministers

The President appoints the Prime Minister, while the remaining ministers are appointed by the President based on the advice of the Prime Minister. This signifies that the President can only appoint individuals as ministers who are recommended by the Prime Minister.

Typically, ministers are chosen from among the members of Parliament, whether from the Lok Sabha or the Rajya Sabha. However, it is possible for someone who is not a member of either House of Parliament to be appointed as a minister. Nevertheless, within six months of their appointment, they must become a member of either House of Parliament, either through election or nomination, failing which they cease to hold ministerial office.

A minister who is a member of one House of Parliament possesses the right to speak and participate in the proceedings of the other House as well, but they can only vote in the House to which they belong.

Oath and Salary of Ministers

Before assuming office, a minister receives oaths from the President, affirming their commitment to various principles. In the oath of office, the minister pledges:

  1. Loyalty to the Constitution of India.
  2. Defense of the sovereignty and integrity of India.
  3. Diligent and conscientious execution of their duties.
  4. Ensuring justice to all individuals in accordance with the Constitution and laws, without bias or prejudice.

Additionally, in the oath of secrecy, the minister vows not to disclose any confidential matters related to their role as a Union minister, except when necessary for their official responsibilities.

In 1990, the oath taken by Devi Lal as deputy prime minister was legally contested on grounds of being unconstitutional, as the Constitution specifically mentions only the Prime Minister and ministers. However, the Supreme Court validated the oath, clarifying that the title of “Deputy Prime Minister” is purely descriptive and does not grant additional powers akin to those of the Prime Minister. It emphasized that titles such as Deputy Prime Minister, Minister of State, or Deputy Minister, not explicitly mentioned in the Constitution, do not invalidate the oath, as long as the core commitments of the oath are upheld.

The salaries and allowances of ministers are determined by Parliament periodically. Ministers receive salaries and allowances equivalent to those of members of Parliament. Additionally, they are entitled to sumptuary allowances, free housing, travel allowances, medical benefits, etc. In 2001, adjustments were made to these allowances, increasing the sumptuary allowance for the Prime Minister, Cabinet Ministers, Ministers of State, and Deputy Ministers to better reflect their respective roles and responsibilities.

Responsibility of Ministers

Collective Responsibility

The cornerstone of the parliamentary system of government is the principle of collective responsibility. As outlined in Article 75, the Council of Ministers is collectively accountable to the Lok Sabha. This signifies that all ministers share joint responsibility before the Lok Sabha for their actions, both omission and commission. They function as a unified team, facing success or failure together. In the event of a no-confidence motion passed by the Lok Sabha against the council of ministers, all ministers, including those from the Rajya Sabha, are obliged to resign. Alternatively, the council of ministers can advise the president to dissolve the Lok Sabha if they believe it no longer accurately represents the electorate’s views, leading to fresh elections. However, the President is not obligated to comply with such advice if the council of ministers has lost the confidence of the Lok Sabha.

The principle of collective responsibility also dictates that Cabinet decisions are binding on all cabinet ministers (and other ministers), even if they held differing opinions during cabinet meetings. It is incumbent upon every minister to uphold and defend cabinet decisions, both within and outside of Parliament. If a minister opposes a cabinet decision and is unwilling to support it, resignation is expected. Throughout history, several ministers have resigned due to disagreements with the cabinet. For instance, Dr. BR Ambedkar resigned in 1953 over differences concerning the Hindu Code Bill, CD Deshmukh resigned due to disagreements on the reorganization of states, and Arif Mohammed resigned in opposition to the Muslim Women (Protection of Rights on Divorce) Act, 1986.

No Legal Responsibility

The principle of individual responsibility is also enshrined in Article 75. According to this principle, ministers serve at the pleasure of the president, granting the President the authority to dismiss a minister even when the council of ministers maintains the confidence of the Lok Sabha. However, the President can only remove a minister upon the advice of the Prime Minister. In instances of disagreement or dissatisfaction with a minister’s performance, the Prime Minister has the discretion to request their resignation or advise the President to dismiss them. By exercising this authority, the Prime Minister can uphold the principle of collective responsibility. In this regard, Dr. B R Ambedkar noted:

Collective responsibility can be achieved only through the instrumentality of the Prime Minister. Therefore, unless and until we create that office and endow that office with statutory authority to nominate and dismiss ministers, there can be no collective responsibility.”

Structure of the Council of Ministers

The Council of Ministers is composed of three tiers of ministers: cabinet ministers, ministers of state, and deputy ministers. These ministers differ in their ranks, compensation, and political significance. Leading the Council is the Prime Minister, who holds the highest governing authority in the nation.

Cabinet ministers oversee pivotal ministries of the Central government such as home affairs, defense, finance, and external affairs. They participate in cabinet meetings and wield considerable influence in policy formulation, with responsibilities spanning across the entire spectrum of the Central government.

Ministers of state may either manage ministries/departments independently or be attached to cabinet ministers. When attached, they might oversee departments within ministries led by cabinet ministers or handle specific tasks related to those ministries. Regardless, they operate under the direction and oversight of cabinet ministers. If given independent charge, they assume duties and powers akin to cabinet ministers but are not cabinet members and attend cabinet meetings only upon invitation for relevant discussions.

Deputy ministers hold a lower rank and do not independently manage ministries/departments. They assist cabinet ministers or ministers of state in administrative, political, and parliamentary matters but do not attend cabinet meetings.

Additionally, there exists another category of ministers known as parliamentary secretaries, who are part of the Council of Ministers. However, they do not oversee any department. Instead, they aid senior ministers in their parliamentary duties. Since 1967, parliamentary secretaries have not been appointed, except during the initial phase of the Rajiv Gandhi Government.

Occasionally, the Council of Ministers may include a deputy prime minister, typically appointed for political purposes.

Comparison between Council of Ministers and Cabinet

The terms ‘council of ministers’ and ‘cabinet’ are frequently used interchangeably, yet they possess distinct differences in terms of composition, functions, and roles.

Council of MinistersCabinet
1. It is a broader assembly comprising 60 to 70 ministers.1. It is a more condensed body consisting of 15 to 20 ministers.
2. It encompasses all three categories of ministers: cabinet ministers, ministers of state, and deputy ministers.2. It comprises solely cabinet ministers, constituting a subset of the council of ministers.
3. It does not convene as a unified body for government proceedings and lacks collective functions.3. It convenes frequently, typically weekly, to deliberate and decide on government business, possessing collective functions.
4. It theoretically holds all powers, but in practice, these powers are exercised by the cabinet, which acts on its behalf.4. It practically exercises the powers of the council of ministers, thus acting on its behalf.
5. Its functions are determined by the decisions of the cabinet.5. It guides the council of ministers by making policy decisions that are binding on all ministers.
6. It executes the decisions made by the cabinet.6. It oversees the implementation of its decisions by the council of ministers.
7. It is a constitutional entity, outlined in Articles 74 and 75 of the Constitution, with its size and structure determined by the prime minister based on situational needs. Its classification into a three-tier system is based on British parliamentary conventions and holds legislative endorsement.7. It was introduced into Article 352 of the Constitution in 1978 through the 44th Constitutional Amendment Act. Originally absent from the Constitution, Article 352 defines the cabinet as the council comprising the prime minister and other ministers of cabinet rank appointed under Article 75, without detailing its powers and functions. Its role in the political-administrative system follows British parliamentary conventions.
8. It collectively bears responsibility to the Lower House of Parliament.8. It upholds the collective responsibility of the council of ministers to the Lower House of Parliament.

In essence, while the council of ministers represents a broader body encompassing various ministerial tiers, the cabinet holds a more focused and influential role within this framework, guiding policy decisions and ensuring their implementation.

Role of Cabinet

  1. Highest Decision-Making Authority: The cabinet stands as the pinnacle of decision-making within our politico-administrative system.
  2. Chief Policy Formulator: It serves as the primary body responsible for formulating policies at the Central government level.
  3. Supreme Executive Authority: Holding the highest executive power, the cabinet governs the Central government with utmost authority.
  4. Chief Coordinator: It acts as the central coordinating body for the administration at the national level.
  5. Advisory Body to the President: The cabinet advises the president, and its recommendations hold binding authority.
  6. Chief Crisis Manager: In times of emergency, the cabinet assumes the role of the principal crisis manager, addressing all urgent situations.
  7. Legislative and Financial Oversight: The cabinet oversees major legislative and financial matters, shaping the direction of governance.
  8. Control over Higher Appointments: It exercises control over significant appointments, including constitutional authorities and senior secretariat administrators.
  9. Foreign Policy and Affairs: All matters related to foreign policies and affairs fall under the purview of the cabinet, guiding the nation’s international relations and diplomacy.

Role Descriptions

Eminent political scientists and constitutional experts have provided insightful descriptions of the role of the cabinet, which resonate not only in Britain but also in the Indian context:

  1. Ramsay Muir: “The Cabinet is the steering wheel of the ship of the state.”
  2. Lowell: “The Cabinet is the keystone of the political arch.”
  3. Sir John Marriott: “The Cabinet is the pivot around which the whole political machinery revolves.”
  4. Gladstone: “The Cabinet is the solar orb around which the other bodies revolve.”
  5. Barker: “The Cabinet is the magnet of policy.”
  6. Bagehot: “The Cabinet is a hyphen that joins, the buckle that binds the executive and legislative departments together.”
  7. Sir Ivor Jennings: “The Cabinet is the core of the British Constitutional System. It provides unity to the British system of Government.”
  8. L.S. Amery: “The Cabinet is the central directing instrument of Government.”

The position of the Cabinet in the British Government has grown so robust that Ramsay Muir coined the term ‘Dictatorship of the Cabinet‘. In his work ‘How Britain is Governed’, he states, “A body which wields such powers as these may fairly be described as ‘omnipotent‘ in theory, however, incapable it may be of using its omnipotence. Its position, whenever it commands a majority, is a dictatorship only qualified by publicity. This dictatorship is far more absolute than it was two generations ago.” This portrayal equally applies in the Indian context, highlighting the pivotal role and immense influence of the Cabinet in the governance structure.

The Kitchen Cabinet

Within the governmental structure, there exists a smaller, more exclusive group known as the Inner Cabinet or Kitchen Cabinet, which holds significant influence despite its informal status. Comprised of the Prime Minister and a select few trusted colleagues, typically numbering between two to four, this intimate circle advises the Prime Minister on critical political and administrative matters, aiding in pivotal decision-making processes. Unlike the larger formal Cabinet, the Inner Cabinet consists not only of cabinet ministers but may also include individuals such as personal friends or family members of the Prime Minister, reflecting a more personal and confidential environment.

Throughout Indian political history, every Prime Minister has maintained their own Inner Cabinet, often referred to as the Kitchen Cabinet. Notably, during the era of Indira Gandhi, the Kitchen Cabinet held particularly substantial power.

The establishment of the Inner Cabinet, though extra-constitutional, offers several advantages:

  1. Efficiency: As a smaller unit, it facilitates swifter decision-making compared to a larger, more cumbersome cabinet.
  2. Expediency: The Inner Cabinet can convene more frequently and handle matters with greater speed and efficiency.
  3. Secrecy: It aids the Prime Minister in maintaining confidentiality in crucial political decisions.

However, the Inner Cabinet also presents certain drawbacks:

  1. Erosion of Cabinet Authority: By functioning as a parallel decision-making entity, it diminishes the authority and stature of the formal Cabinet.
  2. Bypassing Legal Processes: Involving individuals outside the governmental structure allows for influential figures to circumvent established legal procedures.

The concept of the Kitchen Cabinet, where decisions are often formulated before being presented to the formal Cabinet for approval, is not exclusive to India. Similar informal advisory groups exist in the United States and Britain, exerting considerable influence on governmental decisions in those nations as well.

Articles Related to Central Council of Ministers

Article No.Subject Matter
74Council of Ministers to aid and advise President
75Other provisions as to Ministers
77Conduct of business of the Government of India
78Duties of Prime Minister as respects the furnishing of information to the President, etc
Articles Related to Central Council of Ministers

FAQs on Central Council of Ministers in India

  1. What is the Central Council of Ministers in India?
    • The Central Council of Ministers, also known as the Union Cabinet, is a body of ministers who collectively aid and advise the President in the governance of the country. Led by the Prime Minister, this council holds the actual executive authority in India’s political-administrative framework.
  2. How are ministers appointed in India?
    • The President appoints the Prime Minister, who in turn advises the President on the appointment of other ministers. The total number of ministers, including the Prime Minister, cannot exceed 15% of the total strength of the Lok Sabha, as per the 91st Amendment Act of 2003.
  3. What is the significance of collective responsibility in the Council of Ministers?
    • Collective responsibility is a fundamental principle where all ministers, regardless of their specific portfolios, are collectively accountable to the Lok Sabha. This means they share joint responsibility for the actions and decisions of the government. In case of a no-confidence motion or loss of confidence, all ministers must resign, maintaining the integrity of the government.
  4. Can a minister who is not a Member of Parliament still hold office?
    • Yes, a minister who is not a Member of Parliament can hold office but must become a member of either House of Parliament within six months of their appointment. Failure to do so will result in the automatic loss of their ministerial position.
  5. What is the nature of the advice provided by ministers to the President?
    • The advice provided by ministers to the President is confidential and beyond the scrutiny of any court. This relationship underscores the importance of trust and confidentiality between the President and the council of ministers.
  6. What are the different tiers within the Council of Ministers?
    • The Council of Ministers consists of three tiers: cabinet ministers, ministers of state, and deputy ministers. Cabinet ministers oversee pivotal ministries, ministers of state may work independently or under cabinet ministers, and deputy ministers assist higher-ranking ministers but do not manage ministries independently.
  7. What are the obligations of the Prime Minister according to the Constitution?
    • The Prime Minister is obliged to keep the President informed about all decisions made by the Council of Ministers regarding the Union’s affairs and legislative proposals. Additionally, the Prime Minister must provide any information concerning the Union’s affairs and legislative proposals when requested by the President.
  8. What is the role of the Inner Cabinet or Kitchen Cabinet?
    • The Inner Cabinet, also known as the Kitchen Cabinet, is an informal and exclusive group consisting of the Prime Minister and a few trusted colleagues. It advises the Prime Minister on critical matters, facilitating efficient decision-making processes due to its smaller size and confidential nature.
  9. How are ministers’ salaries and allowances determined?
    • The salaries and allowances of ministers are determined by Parliament periodically. Ministers receive salaries and allowances equivalent to those of members of Parliament, along with additional benefits such as sumptuary allowances, free housing, travel allowances, and medical benefits.
  10. What are the differences between the Council of Ministers and the Cabinet?
    • While the terms are often used interchangeably, there are distinctions between the two. The Council of Ministers encompasses a broader assembly with various tiers of ministers, while the Cabinet is a more condensed body consisting solely of cabinet ministers. The Cabinet holds significant decision-making power and acts as the primary policy formulator within the government structure.

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