In a parliamentary democracy, a Cabinet Minister with the title of Prime Minister is the Executive head of the Government, while the Head of State is a largely ceremonial monarch or president. The Executive branch of the Government has sole authority and responsibility for the daily administration of the State bureaucracy.
The Prime Minister selects the team of Ministers in the Cabinet and allocates portfolio. In most cases, the Prime Minister sets up different Cabinet Committees with select members of the Cabinet and assigns specific functions to such Cabinet Committees for smooth and convenient functioning of the Government.
A Cabinet Committee can be either set up with a broad mandate or with a specific mandate. Many a times, when an activity/agenda of the Government acquires prominence or requires special thrust, a Cabinet Committee may be set up for focussed attention. In all areas delegated to the Cabinet Committees, normally the decision of the Cabinet Committee in question is the decision of the Government of the day. However, it is up to the Prime Minister to decide if any issue decided by a Cabinet Committee should be re-opened or discussed in the full Cabinet.
The Parliament of India (Sansad / संसद) is the federal and supreme legislative body of India. It consists of two houses – the Lower House – House of the People called Lok Sabha (लोक सभा )and the Upper House- Council of States called Rajya Sabha.( राज्य सभा).
Though the political party /coalition that have the absolute majority ( i.e at least one seat more than 50 percent of total seats contested and decided) in Lok Sabha forms the Government, the Prime Minister and the members of the Cabinet can be from either House of Parliament. In 1961, the Government of India Transaction of Business Rules (TBR), 1961 were framed, which inter-alia prescribed the procedure in which the Executive arm of the Government would conduct its business in a convenient and streamlined manner.
In terms of the TBR, 1961, inter-alia, there shall be “Standing Committees of the Cabinet” as set out in the First Schedule to the TBR, 1961, with the functions specified therein. The Prime Minister may, from time to time, amend the Schedule by adding to or reducing the numbers of such Committees or by modifying the functions assigned to them. Every Standing Committee shall consist of such Ministers as the Prime Minister may from time to time specify. Conventionally, while Ministers with Cabinet rank are named as ‘members’ of the Standing Committees of the Cabinet, Ministers of State, irrespective of their status of having ‘Independent Charge’ of a Ministry/Department, and others ‘with rank of’ a Cabinet Minister or Minister of State are named as ‘special invitees’.
The Second Schedule to TBR 1961, lists the items of Government business where the full Cabinet, and not any Standing Committee of the Cabinet should take a decision. However, to the extent there is a commonality between the cases enumerated in the Second Schedule and the cases set out in the First Schedule, the Standing Committees of the Cabinet shall be competent to take a final decision in the matter, except in cases where the relevant entries in the respective Schedules themselves preclude the Committees from taking such decisions. Also, any decision taken by a Standing Committee may be reviewed by the Cabinet.
Existing Cabinet Committees
As on 20th March 2013 there are 10 (ten) Standing Committees of the Cabinet. These are the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (ACC), the Cabinet Committee on Accommodation(CCA), the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA) , the Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs, the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA), the Cabinet Committee on Prices (CCP), the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS), the Cabinet Committee on World Trade Organisation Matters (CCWTO), the Cabinet Committee on Investment (CCI), and the Cabinet Committee on Unique Identification Authority of India related issues (CCUID).
While three of the Cabinet Committees, the ACC, CCA and the Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs deal with internal housekeeping and functioning of the Government, three Cabinet Committees have very limited mandates, i.e, CCP is for regulating prices of essential commodities, CCWTO is for matters relating to WTO, and CCUID is for matters relating to UID.
Prominent Cabinet Committees whose functioning is of general interest are the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs (CCEA), the Cabinet Committee on Investment (CCI), the Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs (CCPA), and the Cabinet Committee on Security (CCS).
The latest Cabinet Committee is that on investment. On 2 January 2013, the Government has set up the Cabinet Committee on Investments (CCI) with the Prime Minister as the Chairman to expedite decisions on approvals/clearances for implementation of projects. This is expected to improve the investment environment by bringing transparency, efficiency and accountability in accordance of various approvals and sanctions.
Reconstitution of Cabinet Committees in June 2014
On 10th June 2014, the new Government headed by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi decided to discontinue the following four Standing Committees of the Cabinet:
1. Cabinet Committee on Management of Natural Calamities: The functions of this Committee will be handled by the Committee under the Cabinet Secretary whenever natural calamities occur.
2. Cabinet Committee on Prices: The functions of this Committee will be handled by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs.
3. Cabinet Committee on World Trade Organisation Matters: The functions of this Committee will be handled by the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs and, whenever necessary, by the full Cabinet.
4. Cabinet Committee on Unique Identification Authority of India related issues: Major decisions in this area have already been taken and the remaining issues will be brought to the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs.
On 19th June 2014 the Government reconstituted six Committees of the Cabinet i.e. Appointments Committee of the Cabinet, Cabinet Committee on Accommodation, Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs, Cabinet Committee on Parliamentary Affairs, Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs and Cabinet Committee on Security.
Details of various cabinet committees can be obtained from the website of Cabinet Secretariat of India.