The Constitution of India provides for a Council of Ministers, with the Prime Minister as its head. The President of India exercises his authority on the advice of the Council of Ministers. In the Parliamentary form of Government, the President is the nominal head of the State and the Council of Ministers (CoM) headed by the Prime Minister is the real executive head of the State.
The Prime Minister
The Prime Minister (PM) is appointed by the President, who according to convention, invites the leader of the majority party or group in the Lok Sabha to form the Government. The members of the majority group/party elect their leader in the Lok Sabha to be appointed as the Prime Minister.
The President may use his discretionary power to appoint the Prime Minster, when no single party or group secures the majority in the House but has to appoint when the person who can prove his majority in the House with the support of some smaller groups or parties.
Term of Office
The term of office of the Prime Minister is 5 years. However, the President may dismiss him before, if he loses the majority support in the Lok Sabha.
Position and Powers of the Prime Minister
The Prime Minister with the backing of the majority party or groups in the Parliament is the real executive head of the nation (i.e., de-facto head).
The Prime Minister and the President
- The Prime Minister is the principal advisor to the President. The Prime Minister chooses the ministers and on his advice the President appoints them. He acts as a link between the President and the Council of Ministers.
- According to the Constitution, it is the duty of the Prime Minister to communicate to the President for all the decisions of the Council of Ministers relating to the administration of the union and the proposals for legislation. He advises the President with regard to the appointment of important officials like attorney general of India, Comptroller and Auditor General of India, Chairman and members of the UPSC, election commissioners.
- The President may call for information regarding the affairs of the Union and the Prime Minister has to furnish such information.
Prime Minister and the Cabinet
- The Prime Minster is the head of the Union Council of Ministers. He recommends persons who can be appointed as ministers by the President. It is binding in nature for the President and to allocate them portfolios. He can re-shuffle his Council of Ministers whenever he needs to do so.
- The Prime Minster is the Chief Coordinator between various ministries on policy issues. He can ask a minister to resign or advise the President to dismiss him in case of difference of opinion. The resignation of Prime Minister implies the resignation of the whole Cabinet.
Prime Minister Inside the Parliament
The Prime Minister is the leader of the Lower House in the Parliament and the Chief Sopkesperson of the Government in the Parliament. Whenever an unwanted situation arises in the Parliament, the matter generally ends with the intervention of the Prime Minister.
Prime Minister as the Leader of the Nation
The Prime Minister represents the Nation. He decides the kind of relation India would have with other countries. He tries to protect the interest of the country in international forums. He is the ex-officio Chairman of the NITI Aayog or National Institution for Transforming India Aayog that replaces Planning Commission of India and he is also the Chairman of Atomic Energy Commission.
Check on the Authority of the Prime Minister
Though, Prime Minister is the leader of the majority party, he has to ensure the support of his party as well as the ministers. The Parliament keeps an effective check on the power of the Prime Minister.
The Parliament exercises control over the Prime Minister through question-hour, calling attention motion, No-Confidence motion and other discussions.
Council of Ministers
- The Council of Ministers consists of all the three categories of Ministers – Cabinet Ministers, Ministers of State and Deputy Ministers. Article 75(1) states that, “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”.
- Only the members of Parliament are appointed are appointed as Ministers. However, if a non-member is appointed, he must become a Member of Parliament within six months. Failing this, he will have to resign from his post.
- The Constitution originally does not specify for the number of the Council of Ministers. However, the Constitution (91st Amendment Act, 2003) put a ceiling on the size of the Council of Ministers to 15% of the strength of the Lok Sabha or the State Legislatures. The Constitution does not calssify the members of the Council of Ministers into different ranks.
- The Cabinet is composed of a small, but important body of senior leaders of the party. They hold important portfolios, like home, defence, finance, external affairs and railways etc. They decide major programmes and policies of the government.
- Ministers of State are the second category of ministers. They may or may not hold charge of independent ministers. They are sometimes invited to the Cabinet meetings to discuss matters related to their departments.
- The third category of ministers are the Deputy Ministers who are responsible to assist the Cabinet Ministers and the Council of Ministers. They are junior ministers and are placed under senior ministers whom they have to assist. They never take part in Cabinet deliberations.
- Ministers may be chosen from members of either House and a minister, who is a member of one House has a right to speak in an and to take part in the proceedings of the other House. Though he has no right to vote in the House of which is not a member.
Collective Responsibility and Individual Responsibility of the Members of the Cabinet
- Article 75(3) of the Constitution states that, “The Council of Ministers shall be collectively responsible to the House of the People” (or Lok Sabha).
- This means that, if the ministry loses the confidence of the ‘Lok Sabha’, all ministers including those, who are from Rajya Sabha have to go. The entire ministry is obliged to resign.
- This means that, ministers fall and stand together. This is called “Rule of Collective Responsibility” further ‘individual responsibility” means that individual minister holds the office during the pleasure of the President. It means, that this is a ‘powerful tool of the President in the hands of the Prime Minister. Losing confidence of the Prime Minister leads to dismissal by the President.
Relationship with the President
- The relationship between the President and the Council of Ministers has been emphasised by various Constitutional Amendments. According to the 42nd Amendment to the Constitution, the President shall act in accordance with the advice rendered by the Council of Ministers expressed through the Prime Minister. Thus, the advice of the Council of Ministers to the President is a legal binding on him.
- The 44th Amendment Act provides that the President shall not issue a proclamation of national emergency unless the decision of the Union Cabinet has been communicated to him in writing.
Term of Office
- The minister hold office during the pleasure of the President. But the President has little power in this regard because the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers are directly responsible to the Lok Sabha.
- The Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha. If the Lok Sabha passes a vote of No-confidence against the Council of Ministers, they have to resign collectively.
- The President administers the oath of office and secrecy to the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers. The salaries and allowances of Ministers are determined by Parliament from time to time. Each minister gets a sumptuary allowance at a varying scale, according to his rank and free accommodation.
- The Cabinet is a small but important body consisting of 15-20 members, who are senior leaders of the party, and are included in the Council of Ministers. The Cabinet Ministers head the important ministries of the Central government like home, defence, finance, external affairs and so forth. They hold important portfolios and decide major policies of the Government. In fact, the Cabinet is the pivot round which the whole administration revolves.
- The Cabinet takes important decisions. Such decisions are communicated to the other ministers and they have to follow these decisions even though they might not have seen a party to such decisions.
- Only Cabinet Ministers have a right to attend meetings of the Cabinet. They together determine the policy and programme of the Government.
Powers of the Cabinet
The Cabinet is the ultimate decision-making body of the executive within the Westminister System of Government in Traditional Constitution Theory.
The main powers of the Cabinet are as follows:
The Cabinet formulates both external and domestic policies of the government on important matters such as defence, economic policy, security needs and important reforms, etc.
Once decided, the policy is conveyed to the Ministers of State and Deputy Ministers, and details are worked out and passed to civil servant under the ministry to implement the decisions.
The Cabinet coordinates the working of various departments for the smooth implementation of government policies. All major appointments are decided by the Cabinet and appointed by the President.
Almost 95% of the Bills initiated in the legislature are done by the Cabinet. These are called Official Bills. These are given priority and preference over Private Bills. The minister along with the secretaries of the concerned departments answer the questions put to them by the Members of the Parliament.
The Cabinet is instrumental in planning and moving the Amendment to the Constitution. Although the House is summoned by the President, initiative is taken by the concerned ministry. The President’s special address is prepared by the Cabinet.
The Finance Minister prepares the annual budget containing estimates of income and expenditure of the ensuring year. The Cabinet is responsible for the expenditure of the government, for presenting the demand for grants and also for raising necessary income by various means.
The President can declare a proclamation of national emergency under Article 352. However, after 44th Amendment Act such proclamation can only be made after the written recommendation of the Cabinet to the President.