The words ‘council of ministers’ and ‘cabinet’ are often used interchangeably though there is a definite distinction between them. They differ from each other in respects of composition, functions, and role.
Council of ministers
1. It is a wider body consisting of 60 to 70 ministers.
2. It includes all the three categories of ministers, that is, cabinet ministers, ministers of state, and deputy ministers.
3. It does not meet, as a body, to transact government business. It has no collective functions.
4. It is vested with all powers but in theory.
5. Its functions are determined by the cabinet.
6. It implements the decisions taken by the cabinet.
7. It is a constitutional body, dealt in detail by the Articles 74 and 75 of the Constitution. Its size and classification are, however, not mentioned in the Constitution. Its size is determined by the prime minister according to the exigencies of the time and requirements of the situation. Its classification into a three-tier body is based on the conventions of parliamentary government as developed in Britain. It has, however, got a legislative sanction. Thus, the Salaries and Allowances Act of 1952 defines a ‘minister’ as a ‘member of the council of ministers, by whatever name called, and includes a deputy minister’.
8. It is collectively responsible to the Lower House of the Parliament.
1. It is a smaller body consisting of 15 to 20 ministers.
2. It includes the cabinet ministers only. Thus, it is a part of the council of ministers.
3. It meets, as a body, frequently and usually once in a week to deliberate and take decisions regarding the transaction of government business. Thus, it has collective functions.
4. It exercises, in practice, the powers of the council of ministers and thus, acts for the latter.
5. It directs the council of ministers by taking policy decisions which are binding on all ministers.
6. It supervises the implementation of its decisions by the council of ministers.
7. It was inserted in Article 352 of the Constitution in 1978 by the 44th Constitutional Amendment Act. Thus, it did not find a place in the original text of the Constitution. Now also, Article 352 only defines the cabinet saying that it is ‘the council consisting of the prime minister and other ministers of cabinet rank appointed under Article 75’ and does not describe its powers and functions. In other words, its role in our politico-administrative system is based on the conventions of parliamentary government as developed in Britain.
8. It enforces the collective responsibility of the council of ministers to the Lower House of Parliament.
Role of Cabinet
The various comments made by the eminent political scientists and constitutional experts on the role of cabinet in Britain holds good in the Indian context also. These are mentioned below.
Ramsay Muir “The Cabinet is the steering wheel of the ship of the state.”
Lowell “The Cabinet is the keystone of the political arch”.
Sir John Marriott “The Cabinet is the pivot around which the whole political machinery revolves”.
Gladstone “The Cabinet is the solar orb around which the other bodies revolve”.
Barker “The Cabinet is the magnet of policy”.
Bagehot “The Cabinet is a hyphen that joins, the buckle that binds the executive and legislative departments together”.
Sir Ivor Jennings “The Cabinet is the core of the British Constitutional System. It provides unity to the British system of Government”.
L.S. Amery “The Cabinet is the central directing instrument of Government”.
The position of the Cabinet in the British Government has become so strong that Ramsay Muir referred to it as the ‘Dictatorship of the Cabinet’. In his book ‘How Britain is Governed, he writes “A body which wields such powers as these may fairly be described as ‘omnipotent’ in theory, however, incapable it may be of using its omnipotence. Its position, whenever it commands a majority, is a dictatorship only qualified by publicity. This dictatorship is far more absolute that it was two generations ago”. The same description holds good in the Indian context too.