The council of ministers consists of three categories of ministers, namely, cabinet ministers, ministers of state, and deputy ministers. The difference between them lies in their respective ranks, emoluments, and political importance. At the top of all these ministers stands the Prime Minister—the supreme governing authority of the country.
The cabinet ministers head the important ministries of the Central government like home, defence, finance, external affairs and so forth. They are members of the cabinet, attend its meetings and play an important role in deciding policies. Thus, their responsibilities extend over the entire gamut of Central government.
The ministers of state can either be given independent charge of ministries/departments or can be attached to cabinet ministers. In case of attachment, they may either be given the charge of departments of the ministries headed by the cabinet ministers or allotted specific items of work related to the ministries headed by cabinet ministers. In both the cases, they work under the supervision and guidance as well as under the overall charge and responsibility of the cabinet ministers. In case of independent charge, they perform the same functions and exercise the same powers in relation to their ministries/departments as cabinet ministers do. However, they are not members of the cabinet and do not attend the cabinet meetings unless specially invited when something related to their ministries/departments are considered by the cabinet.
Next in rank are the deputy ministers. They are not given independent charge of ministries/departments. They are attached to the cabinet ministers or ministers of state and assist them in their administrative, political, and parliamentary duties. They are not members of the cabinet and do not attend cabinet meetings.
It must also be mentioned here that there is one more category of ministers, called parliamentary secretaries. They are the members of the last category of the council of ministers (which is also known as the ‘ministry’). They have no department under their control. They are attached to the senior ministers and assist them in the discharge of their parliamentary duties. However, since 1967, no parliamentary secretaries have been appointed except during the first phase of Rajiv Gandhi Government.
At times, the council of ministers may also include a deputy prime minister. The deputy prime ministers are appointed mostly for political reasons.