Union Council of Ministers (CoM)

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1922
Union Council of Ministers (CoM)
Union Council of Ministers (CoM)

The Union Council of Ministers (CoM) or the Central Council of Ministers (CoM) is the backbone of the executive arm of the Union Government. Wielding immense power in shaping national policy and ensuring its implementation, it acts as the country’s central decision-making body. This article of NEXT IAS aims to study in detail the Union Council of Ministers (CoM), its meaning, constitutional provisions, composition, roles, responsibilities, and other related aspects.

The Union Council of Ministers (CoM), also known as the Central Council of Ministers (CoM), is a central body that forms part of the executive branch of the Union Government. It is the real executive authority under the Parliamentary System of Government as provided by the Indian Constitution. The Council serves as the principal advisory body to the Head of State i.e. the President of India. It also plays a pivotal role in decision-making, as well as in the formulation and implementation of government policies.

Important constitutional provisions related to the Union Council of Ministers (CoM) are listed in the following table.

ArticleSubject-Matter
Article 74Council of Ministers to aid and advise the President of India.
Article 75Other provisions for Ministers
Article 77Conduct of business of the Government of India
Article 78Duties of the Prime Minister w.r.t. the furnishing of information to the President, etc.
Article 88Rights of Ministers w.r.t. the Houses

The above constitutional provisions have been discussed in detail in the sections that follow.

  • There shall be a Council of Ministers (CoM) with the Prime Minister at the head to aid and advise the President who shall, in the exercise of his functions, act in accordance with such advice.
  • The President may require the Council of Ministers (CoM) to reconsider such advice.
    • However, the President is bound to act in accordance with advice tendered after such reconsideration.
  • The advice tendered by Ministers to the President shall not be inquired into in any court.
  • The Prime Minister shall be appointed by the President and other ministers shall be appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime Minister.
  • The total number of ministers, including the Prime Minister, in the Council of Ministers shall not exceed 15% of the total strength of Lok Sabha. This provision was added by the 91st Constitutional Amendment Act of 2003.
  • A member of either House of Parliament belonging to any political party who is disqualified on the grounds of defection shall also be disqualified to be appointed as a minister. This provision was also added by the 91st Constitutional Amendment Act of 2003.
  • The Ministers shall hold office during the pleasure of the President.
  • The Union Council of Ministers shall be collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha.
  • The President shall administer the oaths of office and secrecy to the Ministers.
  • A minister who is not a member of Parliament for any period of six consecutive months shall cease to be a minister.
  • The salaries and allowances of ministers shall be determined by the Parliament.
  • All executive actions of the Government of India shall be expressed to be taken in the name of the President.
  • Orders and other instruments made and executed in the name of the President shall be authenticated in such manner as may be specified in rules to be made by the President.
  • The validity of an order or instrument which is so authenticated shall not be called into question on the ground that it is not an order or instrument made or executed by the President.
  • The President shall make rules for more convenient transactions of business of the Government of India and allocation among Ministers of the said business.

It shall be the duty of the Prime Minister:

  • to communicate to the President all decisions of the Council of Ministers related to the administration of affairs of the Union and proposals for legislation.
  • to furnish such information related to the administration of affairs of the Union and proposals for legislation as the President may call for.
  • If the President so requires, to submit for consideration of the Council of Ministers any matter on which a decision has been taken by a Minister but which has not been considered by the Council of Ministers.
  • Every Minister shall have the right to speak and take part in the proceedings of either House, any joint sitting of the Houses, and any Committee of Parliament of which he may be named as a member, but shall not by virtue of this article be entitled to vote.
    • It means that a Minister who is a member of one House of Parliament has the right to speak and take part in the proceedings of the other House also. But, he can vote only in the House of which he is a member.

As the phrase “Council of Ministers (CoM)” suggests, the Central Council of Ministers (CoM) refers to a group of ministers. It is headed by the Prime Minister of India and comprises the following three categories of ministers:

  • Cabinet Ministers,
  • Ministers of State (MoS), and
  • Deputy Ministers.
  • Cabinet Ministers are the ones who head important ministries such as Home, Defence, Finance, etc.
  • These ministers are the members of the Cabinet, attend its meetings, and play an important role in deciding the policies of the government.
  • Ministers of State (MoS) are the ones who can either be
    • Attached to the Cabinet Ministers; or
    • Given an independent charge of Ministries/Departments
  • In case of attachment, the Ministers of State may either be:
    • Given charge of the departments of the Ministries headed by Cabinet Ministers; or
    • Allotted specific items of work related to the Ministries headed by Cabinet Ministers.
      • In both the above cases, these Ministers work under the supervision, guidance as well as overall charge and responsibility of the Cabinet Ministers.
  • In the case of an independent charge, the Ministers of State (MoS) perform the same functions and exercise the same powers w.r.t. their ministries/departments as Cabinet Ministers do.
    • However, they are not a member of the Cabinet and do not attend its meetings unless specifically invited.
  • Deputy Ministers are not given independent charge of Ministries or Departments.
  • They are, rather, attached to the Cabinet Ministers or Ministers of State and assist them in their duties.
  • They are not members of the Cabinet and do not attend the meetings of the Cabinet.
  • Parliamentary Secretaries comprise another category of Ministers. However, they are not members of the Central Council of Ministers (CoM).
  • They are appointed by the Prime Minister of India, and not by the President of India.
  • They do not have any department under their control. Rather, they are attached to the senior ministers and assist them in performing their duties.

The constitutional provisions regarding the appointment of ministers of the Union Council of Ministers (CoM) are as follows:

  • The Prime Minister is appointed by the President of India
  • Other ministers are appointed by the President of India on the advice of the Prime Minister.
    • Thus, the President can appoint only those persons as ministers who are recommended by the Prime Minister.
  • A person who is not a member of either House of Parliament can also be appointed as a minister. But, within 6 months, he/she must become a member of either House of Parliament, otherwise, he ceases to be a minister.

The President of India administers the Oath of Office as well as the Oath of Secrecy to the Ministers of the Union Council of Ministers (CoM).

Oath of Office
In his/her Oath of Office, the Minister swears:
– to bear true faith and allegiance to the Constitution
– to uphold the sovereignty and integrity of India
– to faithfully and conscientiously discharge the duties of his office
– to do right to all manner of people in accordance with the Constitution and the law, without fear or favor, affection or ill-will.
Oath of Secrecy
In his/her Oath of Secrecy, the Minister swears:
– that he/she will not directly or indirectly communicate or reveal to any person any matter that is brought under his consideration or becomes known to him as a Union Minister, except as may be required for the due discharge of his duties as such minister.
  • The salaries and allowances of the Council 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, the minister also gets a sumptuary allowance (according to his/her rank), free accommodation, traveling allowance, medical facilities, etc.

The role of the Council of Ministers can be seen in the following points:

  • It is the highest decision-making authority of the Central Government.
  • It is the chief policy-formulating body of the Central Government.
  • It is the supreme executive authority of the Central Government.
  • It is the chief coordinator of the Central Government.
  • It is an advisory body to the President.
  • It acts as the chief crisis manager in case of emergencies.
  • It deals with all major legislative and financial matters.
  • It exercises control over higher appointments.
  • It deals with all foreign policies and affairs.

As per the Constitutional provisions, the ministers forming part of the Union Council of Ministers (CoM) have two types of responsibilities – Collective Responsibility and Individual Responsibility. Moreover, in the Indian context, the ministers have no Legal Responsibility.

The details regarding the Responsibility of Ministers are explained in the sections that follow.

Article 75 contains the principle of Collective Responsibility and provides that the Union Council of Ministers (CoM) is collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha. It means that:

  • When the Lok Sabha passes a No-Confidence Motion against the Union Council of Ministers (CoM), all the ministers have to resign, including those ministers who are from the Rajya Sabha.
  • The Council of Ministers can advise the President to dissolve the Lok Sabha on the grounds that the House does not represent the views of the electorate faithfully and calls for fresh elections.
  • The President may not oblige the Council of Ministers that has lost the confidence of the Lok Sabha.
  • The decisions of the Cabinet Ministers bind all the ministers, even if they differ with it. Every minister must stand by such decisions and support them both within and outside the Parliament.
    • If any minister disagrees with such a decision and is not prepared to defend it, he/she must resign from his/her post.
  • Article 75 also contains the principle of Individual Responsibility and provides that the ministers hold office during the pleasure of the President.
  • It means that the President can remove a minister even at a time when the Council of Ministers enjoys the confidence of Lok Sabha.
    • However, the President can remove a Minister only on the advice of the Prime Minister.
  • In case of a difference of opinion or dissatisfaction with the performance of a minister, the Prime Minister can ask him to resign or advise the President to dismiss him.
    • By exercising this power, the Prime Minister can ensure the realization of the rule of Collective Responsibility.
  • In Britain, every order of the King for any public act is counter-signed by a Minister. If the order violates any law, the Minister would be held responsible and liable in court.
  • In India, there is no provision for a system of legal responsibility of a Minister. Thus, it is not required that an order of the President for a public act should be counter-signed by a Minister.
  • The 42nd Constitutional Amendment Act of 1976 has made the advice given by the Council of Ministers to the President binding on the President.
    • However, the 44th Constitutional Amendment Act of 1978 added a new provision that the President may require the Council of Ministers to reconsider such advice and the President shall act in accordance with the advice tendered after such reconsideration.
  • The nature of advice tendered by the Ministers to the President cannot be enquired by any court.
    • This provision emphasizes the intimate and confidential relationship between the President and the ministers.

The words ‘Council of Ministers’ and ‘Cabinet’ are often used interchangeably. However, hey differ from each other in various respects as depicted in the table below:

Council of MinistersCabinet
It is a wider body, consisting of 60 to 70 Ministers.It is a smaller body, consisting of 15 to 20 Ministers.
It includes all three categories of ministers – Cabinet Ministers, Ministers of State, and Deputy Ministers.It includes the Cabinet Ministers only. Thus, it is a sub-set of the Council of Ministers.
It does not meet, as a body, to transact government business. Thus, it has no collective functions.It meets, as a body, frequently and usually once in a week to deliberate and make decisions regarding the transaction of government business. Thus, it has collective functions.
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 latter.
Its functions are determined by the Cabinet.It directs the Council of Ministers by making policy decisions that 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 collectively responsible to the Lower House of the Parliament.It enforces the collective responsibility of the Council of Ministers to the Lower House of Parliament.
  • The Kitchen Cabinet is a smaller informal body than the Cabinet consisting of the Prime Minister and his/her few influential colleagues.
  • It may consist of not only the Cabinet Ministers but also friends and family members of the Prime Minister.
  • The Merits and Demerits of the Kitchen Cabinet are as follows:
  • It being a small unit, is a much more efficient decision-making body than a large cabinet.
  • It can meet more often and deal with business much more expeditiously than a large cabinet.
  • It helps the Prime Minister maintain secrecy in making decisions.
  • It reduces the authority and status of the Cabinet.
  • It circumvents the legal process by allowing outside persons to play an influential role in the functioning of the government.

In conclusion, the Union Council of Ministers (CoM) plays a vital and multifaceted role in the governance and administration of India. From formulating policies to executing legislative agendas, from managing governmental departments to advising the President, its role is multifaceted and indispensable. Through these varied responsibilities, it ensures the integrity and effectiveness of governmental operations and maintains the trust of the citizens in the government.

Which article is related to Union Council of Ministers?

Article 74(1) of the Indian Constitution provides that there shall be a Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister to aid and advise the President who shall, in the exercise of his functions, act in accordance with such advice. The Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha, the House of the People.

Who heads the Union Council of Ministers?

The Prime Minister heads the Union Council of Ministers.

Who appoints the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers?

The President appoints the Prime Minister and Council of Ministers.

Who administers the oath of office to the Council of Ministers?

The President of India administers the oath of office to the Union Council of Ministers.

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