India is a constitutional democracy in which the President is the head of state and thus all executive powers are vested in him. All execution action is naturally expressed to be taken in his name.
Being a parliamentary democracy, the President exercises his executive powers in accordance with the advice of his Prime Minister aided by other ministers. Under Article 77 of the Constitution, the President allocates the business of the Government of India, which paves the way for the creation of ministries and departments in the Government.
In 1947, the year of India’s Independence, the country had eighteen ministers. This number has been expanding as a result of expanding workload inevitable under the Constitution committed as it is to socio-economic development of all sections of the society.
In 1997 the Government of India comprised 36 ministries split up into 80 departments. A neat distinction is made between a ministry and a department: a ministry is a minister’s charge, while a department is headed by a secretary and constitutes his administrative charge.
Being political, a ministry is a flexible unit, while a department, being administrative in nature is a more stable unit. A ministry may comprise one department but may have two, three or even four departments, the broad principle being the clubbing together of departments which are interrelated.
The Allocation of Business rules has a long history in India. It dates back to the year 1861 when Lord Canning, India’s Governor-General, introduced this kind of arrangement called the portfolio system. Under the Act of 1861 the Governor-General laid down rules for transacting business, which enabled him to assign responsibility for specific subjects to individual members of the Executive Council, the predecessor of the present day council of ministry.
Each ministry has its unique importance in the country’s governance. But the oldest ones are the following four:
1. Ministry of Home Affairs
2. Ministry of Finance
3. Ministry of Defence
4. Ministry of External Affairs
A brief description of each of these ministries is given below.