Article 74 of the Indian constitution provides for a Council of Ministers. It says that there shall be a Council of Ministers to aid and advise the President. The President functions in accordance with the advice tendered by the Council of Ministers. On some occasions, the President may not like such advice. In that case he may ask the Council of Ministers to reconsider their proposal. But if the proposal is resubmitted to him, the President has no other way but to accept the proposal.
Categories of Ministers
The Council of Ministers consists of all three categories of Ministers. They are Cabinet Ministers, Ministers of State and Deputy Ministers. A Cabinet Minister is the head of his ministry. There cannot be more than one Cabinet Minister in any ministry. It is also to be remembered that a ministry may or may not have a Cabinet Minister.
There may be some ministries without Cabinet Ministers. It is possible that there is a ministry with a Minister of State as its head. But such a head is not a member of the Cabinet. But on invitation he may attend Cabinet meetings without power to vote. The third member in the hierarchy of a ministry is the Deputy Minister. A Deputy Minister does not have independent charge. He works under the control of a Minister of State.
Council of Ministers and Cabinet
The word, ‘cabinet’ had not been used in the constitution of India before the 44th Amendment. The 44th Amendment says, “The President shall proclaim national emergency on the written advice of the cabinet”.
The Council of Ministers and the Cabinet are not the same. The Council of Ministers is larger than the Cabinet. The Council of Ministers includes all kinds of ministers. The Cabinet Ministers are also part of the Council of Ministers.
Only Cabinet Ministers are members of the Cabinet. The Prime Minister convenes the meeting of the Cabinet to formulate policies and discuss other important matters. If necessary, a Minister of State of some department may be invited to the Cabinet meeting. If 9 Minister of State is heading a ministry, he attends Cabinet meetings, but without the rights to vote.
It is thus clear that the Council of Ministers and the Cabinet are not the same. The former is a larger body than the latter. The Council of Ministers includes the Cabinet, though the Cabinet Ministers are much more powerful than other Ministers.
Term of Office
According to Article 75, the Ministers at the centre stay in their offices ‘during the pleasure of the President’, and they are ‘collectively responsible’ to the House of the People. This may suggest that the Ministers are subordinate to the President and it is the President who makes and unmakes the Ministers. But this is far from true. The Ministers are generally from among the elected members of the Lok Sabha/ Rajya Sabha and they belong to the majority party or coalition of parties having confidence of the Lok Sabha. They would continue in offices so long as they enjoy the support of majority in the Lower House.
As India has a Parliamentary form of government, the Ministers enjoying majority support in the Lok Sabha are safe in their offices and they are unlikely to be dismissed by the President. Of course, the President, under the constitution of India, has the power to dismiss his Ministers but he would not dare do it if they have the backing of a majority of the members of the Lok Sabha.
The Ministers are collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha. For their acts of omission and commission, they are accountable to the Lower House normally, their survival as well as demise is collective. In other words, ail of them continue in offices so long as a majority of the members of Lower House back them. But they lose their offices when they lose this backing. The Ministers swim and sink together. They have to function like a team.
Once the Cabinet takes a decision, all the Ministers have to abide by it. If any Minister has disagreement with a Cabinet decision, he has to resign. But the collective responsibility of the Council of Ministers does not mean that there is no individual responsibility of Ministers. Each Minister is individually responsible for his portfolio. Whether he is a Cabinet Minister or some other Minister, he has to give a good account of himself. If he is found corrupt, guilty, dishonest, inefficient or undesirable otherwise, he is almost forced to resign. Such a Minister finds it very difficult to withstand the pressure for his resignation or dismissal.
Further, when a Minister feels that he has failed to perform his function properly, he may resign. There are several instances of senior Ministers having resigned by way of owning moral responsibility for the failure of their respective departments. For example, Lai Bahadur Shastri resigned as Railway Minister when there was a rail accident. He owned moral responsibility for that accident. Madhab Rao Sindhia, the Minister for Civil Aviation, resigned in 1992 when an Indian plane met an accident. The Home Minister, Sivaraj Patil resigned owning moral responsibility for the terrorist attack on Mumbai on 26 November 2008. It is thus clear that ministerial responsibility is collective as well as individual.