The upcoming discussion will update you about the difference between the cabinet and council of ministers.
Sometimes there is some confusion in many minds between the two terms i.e., the cabinet and the Council of Ministers. As already pointed out cabinet form of government has been borrowed in India, from England, where also such a distinction obtains.
In the government there are some very important departments or which are henceforth to be treated as important in view of changed national and international situation e.g., petroleum and chemicals, steel, planning, etc., in India.
These departments are to be put under the charge of senior party leaders or under the charge of those who are trusted ones of the Prime Minister and of whom it is expected that though not formally party members shall be co-operative and useful in carrying forward policies and programmes of the party.
They are given cabinet rank and are known as members of the cabinet. In India there have been several instances when important cabinet portfolios were held by non- Congress men such as Dr. Shyam Prasad Mukerjee, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar, C.D. Deshmukh, Professor V.K.R.V. Rao, D. P. Dhar, Justice M.C. Chhagla, etc., to quote a few examples.
Next then come Ministers of State. In the government there are some departments which are comparatively less important, though quite significant. Similarly in the party there are quite a few persons who are important but not very important so to say. Such persons are given independent charge of one such department, so that they independently handle a separate portfolio and can show their worth and talent.
With the passage of time they are given berth in the cabinet. Such Ministers are invited in the cabinet meetings only when the working of their departments is under consideration.
Quite often a Minister of State is also put under the charge of a Cabinet Minister when the work in the Ministry is too heavy to be handled by a single Minister and it is felt that a comparatively senior person should assist the cabinet Minister in the discharge of his duties. Usually Home, Defence, Finance, Railways, etc., have even more than one State Minister, in addition to a Minister of the cabinet rank.
Next then come Deputy Ministers. They are comparatively junior persons and not given independent charge of any department. They are put under the charge of either Minister of the cabinet rank or that of the State, so that they can get proper training and after gaining experience their services can be used in a better way.
Whereas the Ministers of all the three categories combined together form the Council of Minister, the Ministers of the cabinet rank form the cabinet. In other words, whereas the cabinet is a small body, the Council of Ministers is a much bigger body.
It is evident from the fact that after the first general elections when government was formed there were 15 cabinet members, four Ministers of State and few Deputy Ministers. In 1956, the situation changed and there were 16 cabinet ministers, Ministers of State and 12 Deputy Ministers.
In 1962, there were 18 cabinet Ministers, 12 Ministers of State and 22 Deputy Ministers, in addition to 7 Parliamentary Secretaries. In 1979, when Janata Government resigned, at the time there was only two tier Ministry consisting of the cabinet Ministers and the Ministers of the State.
At that time there were 19 Ministers of former and 17 of latter category. Due to internal party feuds it became difficult to expand the cabinet. Both under Prime Ministership Mrs. Gandhi and Shri Rajiv Gandhi the size of the both the cabinet and Council of Ministers has been frequently changing.
But the size of both the Cabinet and Council of Ministers remained almost the same throughout his Prime Ministership except in 1995 when several young Ministers of State were included in the Council of Ministers.
There is no fixed strength of the Council of Ministers in the constitution. It is, however, preferred that the total strength of the Council of Ministers should not exceed 1/10 of the total strength of the Lok Sabha. It is so felt on account of two important reasons. Firstly, that otherwise administrative expenditure will become too heavy, because each Minister is to be provided several facilities and infrastructure.
But more important reason is that the Prime Minister/Chief Minister shall not be in a position to unnecessarily go on expanding his cabinet and thus, try to use Ministerial berth as an inducement for winning dissatisfied elements for strengthening his own position. Sarkaria Commission has also favoured this size of Council of Ministers.
Though as compared with the Council of Ministers, the cabinet is a small body, yet in many cases it is felt that it is also an unwieldy body for taking any effective and quick decisions. Moreover, the Prime Minister some times feels that it shall not be expedient for him to disclose his mind on some far-reaching political issues in the presence of all his cabinet colleagues.
It is also feared that in the presence of so many persons, if a secret is disclosed that can also travel outside the cabinet and the very purpose of taking quick and sudden decisions is lost.
Therefore, usually a Prime Minister has three or four trusted colleagues in whom he can lay faith and with whom he frankly discusses every political problem. This has come to be called as inner cabinet or some time as ‘Kitchen Cabinet’ where decisions are just cooked and placed before the cabinet or Council of Ministers for its approval.
In India almost every Prime Minister has been having his inner cabinet. Prime Minister Nehru used to frequently consult Sardar Vallabh Bhai Patel and at times in his inner cabinet were Rafi Ahmed Kidwai, Maulana Abdul Kalam Azad, Lal Bahadur Shastri, C.D. Deshmukh and so on.
When Lal Bahadur Shastri became Prime Minister of India, he laid much reliance on Y.B. Chavan, G.L. Nanda and S. Swaran Singh. Smt. Indira Gandhi continuously held the office of the Prime Minister for about 11 years before she was ousted from power in 1977.
During this long period there were splits in the party as well, with the result that there were changes in the cabinet and the Prime Minister had to shift her reliance on cabinet personnel from time to time. In her inner cabinet at times were persons like Y.B. Chavan, Uma Shankar Dixit, Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed, Dr. Karan Singh, Dinesh Singh, and so on. Inner cabinet is thus a circle within a circle.
Salaries and Allowances:
Salaries and allowances of the members of Council of Ministers are fixed by an Act of Parliament. These go on changing from time to time.
Oath of office:
Each Minister, before he, however, takes charge of his office is required to take an oath by which he promises to maintain secrecy and uphold sovereignty and integrity of India.
The oath of office says:
I will bear true faith and allegiance to the constitution of India as by law established, that I will uphold sovereignty and integrity of India, that I will faithfully and conscientiously discharge my duties as a Minister for the Union and that I will do right to all people in accordance with the constitution and the law without fear or favour, affection or ill will.”
The oath of secrecy is that:
I will not directly or indirectly communicate or reveal to any person or persons any matter which shall be brought under my consideration or shall become known to me as a Minister for the union except as may be required for the due discharge of my duties as such Minister.”
Ever-Increasing Responsibility of Cabinet:
In India cabinet system of government has been borrowed from England and as such by and large the cabinet functions on the same principles, as are followed in England. But before discussing these principles it need be remembered that in India the work of the cabinet and that of the inner cabinet has very greatly increased and day-by-day it is much increasing.
It is due to several reasons. Legislative work on the whole in the country has very much increased and in spite of the fact that the cabinet meetings are very frequently held but still much is to be left for delegated legislation.
Then international situations and conditions are changing so fast that it is very difficult to keep pace with these. Every such change in any part of the globe increases the volume of the work of the cabinet, as that requires keeping a very close eye on the situation at all times, because situation can become explosive at any time.
Then the problem is on home front, there is some problem or the other in one part of the country or the other. Central cabinet is expected to keep an eye on every situation and is to ensure that trouble is brought under control at the earliest.
These days terrorist activities along with those of anti-social elements and disintegrating forces have much increased and consume a lot of cabinet time for finding solution to effectually tackling these. Responsibility of the cabinet very much increases as it decides to take-over the administration of any state on account of constitutional break down or any other reason.
Next important cause responsible for increased work load is that more and more industries are being nationalised and the work in the public sector, on the one hand, and expansion of public sector, instead of private sector on the other, has put a burden on the cabinet. Since in India there is a tendency to expand public sector, with that the work of the cabinet is bound to immensely increase.
One more reason for increase in cabinet work load is that a lot of work which should be done by the Council of Ministers is now being done by the cabinet, because it is felt that the former is an unwieldy body, in which it is not possible to take speedy and quick decisions on the one hand and to maintain secrecy on the other.
It is also felt that since many issues on national and international fronts are very sensitive, therefore, these need not be discussed in the meetings of the Council of Ministers, because these can create some sort of misunderstanding in the outside world.
Then another reason for increased cabinet work is rapid scientific and technological advancement with which cabinet is required to keep pace so that the country does leg-behind in technological and scientific fields. It also means backwardness in industrialisation, modernisation and defence preparedness, which no nation can afford.
These days the system of cabinet committees has come to stay with a view to reducing the work of the cabinet as a whole. Every problem which concerns cabinet is first of all discussed in some committee and after some view point has emerged, it is then brought before the cabinet as a whole.
It usually depends on the personality of the Minister in getting the decision of the committees approved from the cabinet and the Parliament.
The system saves a lot of time of the cabinet, which otherwise would have been taken by way of discussion before arriving at any decision. Some of the important cabinet committees are Political Affairs Committee; Economic Affairs Committee; Defence Affairs Committee and so on.