What are the composition and functions of the Union Council of Ministers of India?

Article 74 of the constitution says that there shall be a Council of Ministers with the Prime Minister as the head to aid & advice the President who shall in the exercise of his functions act in accordance with such advice. The questions whether as advice was tendered by the ministers not to be inquired into any court. Thus the real executive authority of the Union is exercised by the Council of Ministers.

Appointments

The ministers are appointed by the President on the recommendation of the Prime Minister. There is no bar on the appointment of a person from outside the Legislature as minister but he cannot continue as minister for more than six months unless he secures a seat in either House of Parliament in the meantime.

Composition

The Council of Ministers consists of the Prime Minister & such other ministers that he may like to appoint. The number of members is not specified in the constitution. The Prime Minister is technically free to choose his team but is generally guided by practical consideration such as ensuring representation to various states, regions, communities, prominent leaders of his party etc. While the constitution does not classify the Council of Ministers into different ranks it has been done informally at the centre. There are Cabinet Ministers, Ministers of State & Deputy Minister.

The Cabinet in practice

The Council of ministers seldom meets as a body. It is the Cabinet an inner body within the Council which shapes the policy of the Government. Cabinet Ministers hold charges of key portfolios. It may be noted that the word Cabinet was not used in the constitution till the 44th Amendment when it found a place in Article 352.

Salaries

Article 75 (6) declares that Parliament may by law determine the salaries of ministers. Ministers get the salaries & allowances as payable to members of Parliament. In addition, each minister gets a sumptuary allowance at a varying scale according to rank & residence, free of rent etc.

Collective Responsibilities

The constitution merely stipulates that the Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to the House of the People. The ministry as a body is under a constitutional obligation to resign as soon as it loses the confidence of the Lok Sabha. A vote of no-confidence against any minister automatically leads to the resignation of the entire council. The ministers instead of resigning can advise the President to dissolve the Lok Sabha on the ground that the House does not represent the views of the electorates faithfully.

A corollary of the principle of collective responsibility is that of lntra-Cabinet responsibility expressing the solidarity of the Cabinet. A minister is not expected to speak out publicly against a policy decision of the Cabinet, if he is unable to accept a policy decision of a colleague or the Cabinet he should resign from office.

Individual responsibility

The constitutional stipulation is that the ministers shall hold office during the pleasure of the President i.e. though collectively responsible to the Legislature they are individually responsible to the executive & may be dismissed even if they enjoy the confidence of the Legislature. In practice this power of the President is virtually a power of the Prime-Minister against his colleagues for it is on his advice that the President would dismiss other ministers.

Legal responsibility

The system of legal responsibility of a minister is not prescribed in the Indian Constitution. In the U.K. the monarch cannot do any public act without the counter signature of a minister who is legally responsible for the act. If the act violates a law the minister is libel in a court of law. The Indian constitution does not say the President can act only through ministers it is left to the President to make rules as to how his orders are to be authenticated. Further the courts are barred from inquiring into the nature of advice rendered by the ministers. As such if the President's act is authenticated by a secretary to the Govt. of India, no minister can be held legally responsible for it even though he may have advised it.

The Council of Ministers formulates & implements the policy of the country. It introduces most of the important Bills & resolutions in Parliament & steers them through. It prepares & presents the budget to Parliament for its approval & generally it is passed in the form in which it is presented. The foreign policy of the govt. is determined by the Council of Ministers. It plays a vital role in recognition of new states & advises the President with regard to appointment of diplomats. It is the Cabinet that renders advice to the President regarding proclamation of emergency on grounds of war, external aggression or armed rebellion.