The Council of Ministers and the Cabinet

The terms Council of Ministers and ‘The Cabinet’ are often used as inter-changeable terms.

In reality, they are not.

Prior to 44th Amendment of the Constitution, the word ‘Cabinet’ was not mentioned in the Constitution.

The council of ministers consists of three categories of ministers, namely, cabinet ministers, ministers of state, and deputy ministers.

The cabinet ministers head the important ministries of the Central government like home, defence, finance, external affairs and so forth.

The ministers of state can either be given independent charge of ministries/departments or can be attached to cabinet ministers. 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.

Deputy Ministers are not given independent charge of ministries/departments. They are attached to the cabinet ministers or ministers of state and assist them in their administrative, political, and parliamentary duties. They are not members of the cabinet and do not attend cabinet meetings.


It is a smaller body consisting of 15 to 20 ministers.

It includes the cabinet ministers only. Thus, it is a part of the council of ministers.

It has collective functions.

It exercises, in practice, the powers of the council of ministers and thus, acts for the latter.

It directs the council of ministers by taking policy decisions which are binding on all ministers.

Its decisions are implemented by the council of ministers.


Council of ministers

This is a wider body consisting of 60 to 70 ministers.

It includes all the three categories of ministers, that is, cabinet ministers, ministers of state, and deputy ministers.

It has no collective functions.

Its functions are determined by the cabinet.

It implements the decisions taken by the cabinet.


Powers and Functions of the Cabinet

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.

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.


Responsibility of the Ministers

There is a Council of Ministers, with the Prime Minister as its head to aid and advise the President.

Constitutionally the Ministers hold office during the pleasure of the President.

But, in fact, they are responsible to, and removable by the Lok Sabha.

Actually 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.


Collective Responsibility

Our Constitution clearly says that “The Council of Ministers shall be collectively responsible to ‘House of the People’.”

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.  Members of the Council of Ministers swim and sink together.

When a decision has been taken by the Cabinet, every Minister has to stand by it without any hesitation.

If a Minister does not agree with the Cabinet decision, the only alternative left to him/her is to resign from the Council of Ministers.

Secondly, vote of no-confidence against the Prime Minister is a vote against the whole Council of Ministers.

Similarly, adverse vote in the Lok Sabha on any government bill or budget implies lack of confidence in the entire Council of Ministers, not only the mover of the bill.


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 the Parliament.

If a Minister becomes a liability or embarrassment to the Prime Minister, he may be asked to quit.


No Legal Responsibility

There is no provision in the Constitution for the system of legal responsibility of a minister.

It is not required that an order of the President for a public act should be countersigned by a minister.

Moreover, the courts are barred from enquiring into the nature of advice rendered by the ministers to the president.


No-confidence motion

It is a motion moved by a member of legislature expressing no-confidence of the House in the Council of Ministers.

If adopted by the legislature, the Council of Ministers has to resign.