Brief notes on chief minister and state council of ministers

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In India, the Chief Minister is the real executive of a state. At the state level, he may be considered the counterpart of the Prime Minister. Though the head of the state is the Governor, the head of the government is the Chief Minister.

Under Article 163 of the Indian Constitution, the Governor exercises his powers and performs his functions with the aid and advice of the state council of ministers, which is headed by the Chief Minister. Experience has shown that the Chief Minister is the centre of real executive authority at the state level, except during President’s rule, when there is no Chief Minister or, for that matter, no popularity elected government.

Regarding the appointment and removal of the Chief Minister, Article 164(i) of the Constitution states: “The Chief Minister shall be appointed by the Governor and the other Ministers shall be appointed by the Governor on the advice of the Chief Minister, and the Ministers shall hold office during the pleasure of the Governor the Article does not throw much light on the appointment of the C.M. However, it is normally interpreted that the C.M. must belong to the state legislature and must be able to command a majority in the Legislative Assembly of the state.

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If there is a party in the Assembly having absolute majority the Governor has no alternative but to invite its leader to form the government.

In case, due to an undecided poll verdict, no political party secures a clear-cut majority, the Governor can ask the leader of the single largest party to form the government. Normally, the Chief Minister should belong to the lower chamber (whatever there is a bicameral legislature) i.e. the Legislative Assembly, but there are no legal restrictions on a member belonging to the Upper House being nominated. But, as per the provisions of Article 164(4), a C.M. who is not a member of the state legislature can continue as C.M. for a maximum period of six months and after the expiry of this period, he has to vacate his post, in case he is not elected to the state legislature.

As regards the removal of the C.M., Article 164(1) maintains that the C.M. holds office at the pleasure of the Governor. This article must be read with Article 164(2), which says that the ministers, and they include the C.M., are responsible to the Legislative Assembly of the state. This has several implications.

It is normally taken to mean that so long as the C.M. enjoys the support and confidence of the Assembly, he cannot be removed by the Governor. Dismissal, in this sense, could occur only if the C.M. loses his support or the ministry is defeated on a major policy issue on the floor of the Assembly leading to a no- confidence motion. However, what happens in practice is that the removal of a C.M. is rarely the decision of the Governor.

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The latter only acts as an agent of the Union Government and, therefore, it is the Union Government which generally removes a Chief Minister from office. This usually happens when the C.M. of a state refuses to follow the directions of the Centre and, often, when the party ruling in the state is other than the one at the Centre. This is done through the provision of Article 356.

Appointment

In the appointment of a C.M., although the Governor has some discretion in certain cases, in the constitution of the council of ministers, he has none. Usually, all the ministers are the choice of the C.M. and the Governor is expected to formally approve the names recommended by the former.

This body of ministers is responsible to the Legislative Assembly of the state and not to the Governor. Although, theoretically speaking, the C.M. has a free hand in the appointment of ministers; there are several constraints which work upon his mind when he makes his choice. Some such constraints are: the desire of the high command of the party at the national level; representation to important regional belts in the state; representation to different caste groups,, including scheduled castes and scheduled tribes and to women and minorities; the necessity of having persons with a political base, calibre and experience to be appointed to sensitive portfolios like Finance, Home and Planning; and inclusion of leaders of several parties, if it is a coalition ministry etc. Despite several adjustments, total satisfaction among various contending groups can hardly be achieved.

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The Administrative Reforms Commission of the Government of India (1960-70) had suggested that a ministry in a state should not have more than ten per cent of the members of the party in power in the Assembly of the state concerned. This suggestion has, however, not been observed in practice. Political considerations always gain primacy over administrative efficiency. An unwieldy large ministry creates problems of interdepartmental coordination and interpersonal relations.

Experience has shown that only a politically strong C.M., backed by his party at the state as well as the central levels, can afford to form a ministry that is optimum in size. However, a weak C.M. may have to compromise desirable norms and principles in order to stay in power. And, that is what is happening in a large number of states today.

The C.M. of a state enjoys full discretion in the matter of allocation of portfolios to his ministers. The primary consideration in this regard is the capacity and experience of the ministers in handling particular departments. The C.M. not only distributes portfolios among his ministers but can also reshuffle his ministry as and when required.

Reshuffling is often used as a tool to chastise ministers, who become “too big for their boots”, as through this practice, the C.M. can divest a minister of an important portfolio and thereby, clip his wings. Such reshuffling becomes important as a disciplinary tool. Conversely, a minister’s clout can also be increased through such reshuffles through the allocation of a more important portfolio to that minister. Much would, however, depend on the C.M.’s political sagacity and the support that he enjoys in his party.

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At the state level, the council of ministers is a three-tier body with the Cabinet at the Apex. The cabinet is a small body of ministers holding the most important portfolios. The C.M. determines the time, place and agenda of cabinet meetings. Such meetings can be called at a short notice of a few hours also.

The C.M. presides over these meetings and discussions are conducted under his stewardship. The political skills of the C.M. are tested in his conduct of Cabinet meetings. As the cabinet is the main policy making body of the state government, its deliberations are conducted with the greatest care. In case of differences of opinion in the cabinet, the C.M. has to iron them out and hold the cabinet together.

It is not necessary that he takes every decision in the cabinet meetings only. If the C.M. has a strong standing himself, he can take a decision and report it, which then becomes fait accompli for the cabinet. He can also take the cabinet colleague, who is dealing with the concerned subject, into confidence, while taking a decision and then place it for post-facto endorsement by the cabinet.

The minister and the secretary of the department concerned supervise the execution of the decision of the Cabinet. The C.M. evaluates the performance of the various executive agencies and takes corrective action wherever necessary.

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There are several dignitaries, officials and organizations, with whom the C.M. interacts from time to time. A brief discussion on a few aspects of this role network is relevant.

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