As it is very difficult for the Prime Minister to convene the entire cabinet for each and every issue, a system of cabinet committees has been introduced to facilitate the smooth functioning of the government. Committee is a device for increasing the output of an organisation. Introduction of system of cabinet committees reduces the work burden of the entire Cabinet.
They provide necessary information to the Cabinet to take a decision on a particular matter. They system also safeguards the principle of collective responsibility. It also vastly increases the effectiveness of the control of the political executive over bureaucracy.
Cabinet committees are necessary to perform functions devolved on them by the cabinet. Another advantage of the cabinet committees is that they facilitate effective co-ordination among the members of the cabinet.
There are two types of cabinet committees. As the name itself indicates ad- hoc committees are formed to settle some specific problems and once the task is finished the committee ceases to exist.
But Standing Committees yield real power and are of great importance in the political system. A cabinet committee is headed by a Cabinet Minister and under exceptional circumstances we also see the Prime Minister heading a cabinet committee.
Cabinet committees in India
After independence the Government constituted two Standing Committees, the Defence Committee and the Economic Committee. They were constituted in 1948. Gopalaswami Ayengar Committee that went into the working of the political system in its report strongly recommended constitution of cabinet committees by the Government.
It recommended that the Standing Committee should be regarded as part of the permanent machinery of government for which appropriate secretariat may be provided on a permanent basis.
It also recommended establishment of four permanent standing committees, namely, defence committee, economic committee, administrative organisation committee and the parliamentary and legal affairs committee.
The Union Government set up in 1950 four standing committees - Defence, Economic, Parliamentary and Legal and Administrative organisation, the last being set up on an ad hoc basis. A Fifth committee was soon added to the list in the form of the appointments committee. The Prime Minister was given full authority to determine the composition of these committees. Each committee was given adequate secretariat assistance.
In 1957 the Government changed the entire structure of the cabinet committees. Five standing committees were abolished; three ad hoc committees dealing with transient matters were formed. Ten new committees were formed.
In order to remove the deficiencies in the working of the cabinet committees, a study team on the Machinery of Government of India was formed in 1967 and in its report it made the following recommendations.
(1) Committees between them should cover all important areas of governmental activity.
(2) The Prime Minister should not be the chairman of any committee unless it should be a very important committee like that of defence, foreign affairs and economic affairs.
(3) The membership of each committee should not exceed eight.
(4) All ministers in-charge of subjects covered by a committee should be represented in the committee.
On the other hand, the Administrative Reforms Commission in its report did not wholly agree with the recommendations of the study team.
(1) It recommended setting up of 11 standing committees for all important ministries.
(2) Ad hoc committees should be retained which should be confined to mere investigation and not decision-making.
(3) Membership should not normally exceed six and should include all ministers-in-charge of subject covered by the committee.
However, the Government did not agree with the recommendations of the Administrative Reforms Commission and its recommendations were kept in abeyance.
The committee system got a fillip with the assumption of power by the Janata Government at the centre. The Cabinet committees took all the major decisions and the Prime Minister in consultation with the cabinet normally endorsed the recommendations of the Cabinet committees.
But over the years the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs has emerged as the most important cabinet committee, as it consisted of the Prime Minister and important ministers of the cabinet.