Being a central executive body of the government the cabinet performs wide ranging functions which make its role critical and decisive.Cabinet is the supreme directing authority, the magnet of policy, which co-ordinates and controls the whole of the executive government of the Union and integrates and guides the work of Parliament.
A parliamentary system of government on the British model is operative in India, but the Cabinet in India performs certain functions which the British Cabinet dare not assume. For instance, Article 123 of the Constitution empowers the President to promulgate Ordinances which shall have the same force and effect as an Act of Parliament.
Such Ordinances are issued and promulgated on the advice of the Cabinet under the authority of the President. Fundamental Rights, as contained in Article 19, may be suspended when a Proclamation of Emergency is in force and the decision to declare Emergency and suspension of Fundamental Rights, as contained in the Presidential Order, including the enforcement of such rights, is that of the Cabinet and not of the Prime Minister alone.
Decisions relating to the reorganisation of the States and alteration in their boundaries are taken by the Cabinet. All such decisions are in the final analysis subject to the approval of Parliament, but so long as the Government commands a comfortable majority Parliament simply gives its approval.
Cabinet is a deliberative and policy formulating body. It discusses and decides all sorts of national and international problems confronting the country. The Cabinet always attempts to reach unanimous agreements embodying Government’s policy so that it presents to Parliament and to the world at large a unified policy of action. This is the essence of collective responsibility.
While the Cabinet has determined on a policy the appropriate Ministry carries it out either by administrative action within the framework of the existing law or by submitting a new proposal for legislation to Parliament. Legislation is the handmaid of administration and Cabinet is the instrument which links the Executive wing of Government to the Legislative. In this way, the Cabinet directs Parliament for action and it gets the approval of its policy with a majority in Parliament. Cabinet, as such, leads Parliament.
These are essentially legislative functions of the Cabinet. But in the modern State, as Jennings has said, “most legislation is directed towards the creation or modification of administrative powers”. No vivid distinction, as a matter of reality, can be made between legislation and administration.
Functions of Indian Cabinet
The members individually as well as collectively and through the Prime Minister perform these functions within the parameters of the Constitution. The council of ministers exercises the executive authority of the Union Government. It is the cabinet which steers the ship of the state. Under our Constitution, the cabinet can issue directives to state government under certain circumstances and under the state of emergency it can virtually control the working of the state governments.
Policy Making Functions of Indian Cabinet
The cabinet is a policy-formulating body. All kinds of policies, national, internal, external and international are thrashed out in the cabinet, which then presents them to the Parliament for approval. Once the policy has been determined by the cabinet, it is for the ministry/department concerned to carry it out.
A cabinet minister is in-charge of a specific ministry or department and it is his duty to administer the subjects included in his portfolio. In addition, he also shares a collective responsibility with other members of the cabinet for the overall policy for anything of high importance that is done in every branch of public business besides his own.
Laws Making Functions of Indian Cabinet
The Parliament is the repository of legislative authority and can enact repeal and amend legislation but m practice, it is the cabinet which takes initiative in legislative matters and directs Parliament. It is the cabinet which prepares the legislative measures, introduces them and pilots them through the two houses of Parliament.
Financial Functions of Indian Cabinet
The annual budget is prepared by the cabinet which determines what taxes are to be imposed and how the public revenues are to be spent. The Parliament, even the Lok Sabha is free to debate upon and discuss all items of the budget but it can hardly make any substantive change in it unless the government agrees to such a change. An adverse vote in Parliament on any money bill is deemed to be an expression of censure of the cabinet which may result in its resignation.
Administrative Functions of Indian Cabinet
All major appointments reserved for action by the President under the Constitution, e.g., Attorney-General, members of the Union Public Service Commission, Chief Election Commissioner, Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts, Governors of states, etc., are made by him on the recommendation of the Prime Minister and in consultation with the minister of the department concerned.
The Secretary is responsible for carrying out the policies laid down by the cabinet and approved by the Parliament. He can instruct the departmental functionaries and supervise their working. A minister is expected to face questions in the Parliament. He may or may not abide by the advice of his civil servants but he should see to it that the civil servant’s freedom to advise is not curtailed.
The conduct of foreign relations, reception and dispatch of diplomatic agents and recognition or nonrecognition of new states are done after the approval of the cabinet. Treaties are also negotiated and signed after the approval of the cabinet is obtained and the Parliament is duly informed about these. The cabinet also controls the foreign tours of the President and other ministers.
Decisions in matters which are of complicated and controversial nature, the ministers consult the Prime Minister before taking any action. Matters, particularly those affecting other departments/ministries, the matter may be referred to the cabinet for collective decisioning. Such cases are referred to as ‘coordination cases’ or cabinet questions which can be decided only by the cabinet.
In addition, there are matters about which Rule 4 of the Transaction of Business Rules lays down that “when the subject of a case concerns more than one department, no order shall be issued until all such departments have concurred of failing such concurrence, a decision thereon has been taken by or under the authority of the cabinet”. The cabinet decides, at the beginning of each session, what bills will be put forth in that session.
The inaugural speech of the President is also prepared by the cabinet. The President summons, prorogues and dissolved the House on the advice of the cabinet headed by the PM. All ordinances issued by the President are also prepared by the cabinet. It is a subsidiary power of legislation which takes the form of administrative order.
All important Money Bills are framed in the cabinet and are initiated and seen through in the legislature by it. The cabinet is responsible for the entire expenditure of the state and for raising revenues to meet it. Similarly, the ‘Emergency Provisions’ authorise the President to issue a proclamation whereby the authority is really exercised by the cabinet during the period specified. The real centre of authority and power has been shifting from the full cabinet, which itself is a committee of the council of ministers, to a still smaller body.
Such smaller bodies usually consist of the Prime Minister and three or four influential colleagues who share his confidence and are habitually consulted by him. Thus, it is difficult to identify at any given time the actual number and kind of persons whom the Prime Minister may choose to consult. But the fact remains that nobody formal or informal can supplant the cabinet, which continues to act as a political ‘court of appeal’.
The Planning Commission works in close collaboration with the cabinet. The Prime Minister is the chairman of this Commission, which controls the entire economic planning for the country. He also heads the National Development Council, which acts as a coordinating forum for the Centre and the states. The cabinet not only executes the policies but also provides leadership to the legislature during legislation.
It is this hyphen that joins and the buckle that fastens the administrative and the legislative wings of the government. It formulates policies, makes decisions and drafts bills on all significant matters which in their judgement require legislative attention. The Cabinet advises the President and the advice of the cabinet is binding on him. It is the sole decision-making body on policy matters and these decisions are conveyed to the President who endorses them.
The Transaction of Business Rules do not require that matters which are not strictly within their purview be brought before the cabinet. In matters of vital importance, the Prime Minister has consulted a small group of his colleagues generally in the Political Affairs Committee of the cabinet or its predecessor bodies, and sometimes only individual members privately, before taking a decision.