Function of Council of Ministers in India
Though there is an elected President at the top of the Government structure, the constitution in reality establishes a British cabinet type of Government in India.
Artivle 74(1) requires the President to have a Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister at the head to “aid and advice” him in the exercise of his power. To remove the impression that the advice given by the Council of Ministers may not be binding on the President, the 42nd amendment of the constitution has made the ministerial advice expressly binding on the President.
In terms of Article 74(1) the President is bound to have a Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister at the head. The Prime Minister is appointed by the President and all other ministers are appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister. India has a three-tier ministry consisting of cabinet ministers, ministers of state and the deputy ministers. The term cabinet is absent in the constitution. Usually senior ministers with independent charge of ministries constitute a body that the Prime Minister consults in arriving at policy decisions, constitute the cabinet. The cabinet thus is the policy making part of the ministry. It is an informal body and its members are chosen by the Prime Minister himself.
Article 75 make the Council of Minister responsible to the House of People. This obliges the President to appoint the leader of the majority party as the Prime Minister and to appoint other ministers on his advice. Thus the Prime Minister is not the President’s nominee but the nation’s choice. The nation votes a party to power and its leader becomes the Prime Minister. Indian general elections are really elections of the Prime Minister.
The Prime Minister and the members of the council of ministers serve legally “during the pleasure of the President.” But the President’s pleasure is not personal but political. So long the Prime Minister retains his support in the House of People; the President cannot withdraw pleasure from the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers.
The executive government in India is really the Prime Minister’s government. The cabinet, as in England is the steering wheel of the government. As the nation’s chief executive body, the cabinet performs the following principal functions.
- Firstly, it is in charge of administering all the subjects entrusted to the national government by the union list. Principal among these functions are providing for security and defence of the country, maintaining and conducting the nation’s foreign affairs, maintaining the system of communication within the country, keeping the national economy in good health, preserving and improving inter-state relations and a host of other things. Ministers are put in charge of administrative departments. The ministers are in reality political heads of administrative departments of governments. An elaborate bureaucracy conducts the day to day administration, under the political control of the ministers. Thus the Cabinet and the Prime Minister administers the country.
- In the sphere of law making the cabinet is equally supreme and the President has only a formal role. The President is no doubt an integral part of the Parliament. The President addresses the joint sessions of the Parliament after every general election and at the beginning of each session of the Parliament. But the President only reads out the address drafted for him by the Cabinet. The President signs the bills passed by the Parliament into law. But the President does exactly what the cabinet asks him to do.
- Again strictly constitutionally, the Parliament is the nation’s supreme law making body. But the Prime Minister and the cabinet have a firm control over the Parliamentary majority. Because of this majority support, the Prime Minister and the cabinet can make the Parliament pass whatever law, the Prime Minister wants the Parliament to pass. Conversely, the Parliament shall never pass a bill which the Prime Minister and the Cabinet oppose. Thus the law making powers of the Parliament is also the powers of the Cabinet.
- The Prime Minister and the Cabinet also have an absolute control over the nation’s finances. The annual budget is prepared at the instance of the cabinet. The proposals for taxes and expenditures are really made by the Cabinet, and only formally approved by the Parliament.
- Finally, Indian constitution is partially based on the theory of Parliamentary sovereignty. The sovereignty of the Parliament realistically means the sovereignty of the cabinet. Even the judiciary is not beyond cabinet control. Judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts are appointed and transferred by the President on Cabinet advice. Similarly the President’s rights to grant pardon or reprieve or remission of sentences are also the powers of the Cabinet. Thus the Indian Cabinet, like its British counterpart enjoys powers of dictatorial dimensions.