The important principles of the cabinet system of government in India has been provided by the Articles 74 and 75 of the constitution. Art 74 (i) lay down that there shall be a council of ministers with the Prime-Minister at the head to aid and advise the President in the discharge of his functions. Art 75 (i) says that “The Prime Minister shall be appointed by the President and the other ministers shall be appointed by the President on the advice of the Prime minister”. The President of India has no choice but to accept the advice of the Council of Ministers as it remains responsible for all the action, on his behalf, to the Lower House of the India Parliament.
As a matter of Parliamentary Practice the President appoints, the leader of the majority party or any person enjoying the support of the majority of members in the Lok Sabha as Prime Minister for five years. The President appoints the ministers and distributes portfolios among them on the advice of the Prime-Minister. On his advice the President can appoint an outsider, not a Member of Parliament a minister. However such a person has to be elected to either House of Parliament within six months from the date of his appointment. On his recommendation the President can dismiss any minister from the Council of Minister. Virtually the President has no say in these matters as these constitute the prerogatives of the Prime Minister.
The members of the Council of Ministers belong to different ranks. Normally there are four categories of ministers appointed by the President. The senior and experienced leaders of the party are appointed as cabinet ministers. They handle their portfolios independently with the assistance of the other kinds of ministers. The next category is Minister of State who are fairly senior and experienced good enough to assist the cabinet ministers. Sometimes the Ministers of state are given independent charge of the ministries also. Like cabinet minister they freely handle the affairs of these ministries and get assistance from the junior ministers. The only justification of giving independent charge of ministries to some ministers of state and denying this to other minister of this rank is the prerogative of the Prime Minister. The other two categories are Deputy Minister and Parliamentary Secretaries who are fairly younger with almost no experience.
They are inducted into the cabinet to acquire experience by assisting their senior ministers to discharge their functions well. No qualification or age limit is laid down for these different categories of ministers. The political wisdom as well as the compulsions of the Prime Minister decide which minister will belong to which category and handle which portfolio. The Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to the Lower House of the Parliament. The ministers also individually responsible for acts done on behalf the President.
The Council of Ministers hardly meets as a body. It is the cabinet, an inner body within the Council which assumes all authority and shapes the policy of the Government. Cabinet is the highest policy making body, consulted by the Prime Minister frequently while taking important policy decisions in matters of administration. Only the cabinet ministers attend the cabinet meetings as they constitute the core group of the Prime Minister. The other categories of Ministers, unless specially invited do not attend the cabinet meetings. That is why a distinction is always made between the council of ministers and the cabinet. The farmer is a larger body comprising of all categories of ministers, but the later is a smaller body of cabinet ministers. Thus all members of the cabinet are members of the council of minister while all members of the council of ministers are not members of the cabinet.
Since the Council of Ministers does not meet as a body, the cabinet being a smaller structure of senior and experienced ministers becomes the highest advisory body to the President of India. All policy decisions are taken in the Cabinet. The Prime Minister discusses all matters relating to administration with his colleagues in the cabinet and decides the policies to be adopted. Once the policy is formulated the entire Council of Ministers remains collectively responsible to that. Over and above the cabinet looks after the execution of the policy there is an experienced and well trained professional body of civil servants to assist the Prime Minister and the other ministers in the implementation of the policies. The cabinet settles all inter departmental and inter ministerial differences for smooth functioning of the government. It also determines the traits of our foreign policies and important appointments relating to that.
The cabinet also decides the finance policy and takes care of the Fiscal Management. Coordinating the functions of various Cabinet Committee is perhaps the most important function of the Cabinet. The Cabinet Committees formulate policy proposals of the government. These issues are examined in details by the Cabinet. On the whole the moral and political responsibility of the entire administration belongs to the cabinet inspite of the fact that there is a large and extended civil service to carry out the actual administration. In a cabinet-government the cabinet as a body exercises the real executive powers of the state.