Secret uncovered: How our cabinet works

Today, I am summarising some key  rules regarding how the business of the Government of India is conducted.  At the top of the Executive wing f the government in India is the Union Cabinet consisting of the Prime Minister, various departments directly under his control, and his Council of Ministers. One of the key Rules on their functioning (the Government of India (Transaction of Business) Rules, 1961) was a secret until recently, and has been made public only recently.  It is this particular rule I am simplifying and summarizing.

The Business of the Government of India is conducted at various levels primarily within the Ministries/ Departments in terms of the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961. However, in terms of the Government of India (Transaction of Business) Rules, 1961, such disposal of business is subject to the provisions concerning consultation with other Ministries, approval of the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and its Committees and the President.

The Rules cover the following broad topics:

1. How ministries dispose of “business”.

2. How and when inter-departmental consultations are to take place.

3. How and for what matters the Ministry of law and justice should be consulted.

4. Powers of the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister to call for papers from any department.

5. The existence of standing committees within the Cabinet, their role and function.

6.  A list of matters which have to be placed before the Cabinet.

The cases or class of cases that need approval of the Cabinet, are indicated in the Second Schedule, and those requiring approval of the Cabinet Committees are indicated in the First Schedule to the Government of India (Transaction of Business) Rules, 1961.  Some interesting Cabinet Committees and their brief functions are:

Cabinet Committee on World Trade Organisation Matters:   self-explanatory.

Cabinet Committee on Political Affairs:  Among other things, it deals with center-state issues, and “consider economic and political issues that have to be judged with a wider perspective” (sounds a little vague, doesn’t it!!).

Appointments Committee of the Cabinet:  This committee takes decisions on appointments for certain specified posts mentioned in the Rules.

Cabinet Committee on Accommodation:  Frames rules and regulates how government employees and MPs get accommodation.

There are also other committees on economic issues, on security, on food prices and natural calamities.

What is very striking is that none of these provisions seem like they needed to be classified as ‘secrets’ for so long!!  In fact, keeping them secret I think, has only contributed to the de-democratization of this country.  By keeping them secret, the government ensured that lay-people had no idea of how business within the Union cabinet is conducted, and therefore had no idea regarding who to approach at which particular time.  However, those with resources would anyway be able to invest enough energy to find out how things operate within the Cabinet.  This, I think, has only created a gulf between those who had enough time and resources to spend uncovering something as uncontroversial as the stuff mentioned above.

4 thoughts on “Secret uncovered: How our cabinet works

Add yours

  1. There seems to be a serious disconnection with the reality which demands expeditious disposal of matters. The entire working of the government needs to go back to the drawing board and the redundant layers of bureaucracy (and secrecy) should be replaced with a transparent, realistic and effective methodology for today’s India.


  2. While I completely agree with your sentiment, imagine how difficult the task is!! Its taken us 60 years to have the Right to Information legislated, and we are now hearing increasing complaints of officials refusing to release information, and not facing penalties for the same!!


  3. “Allocation of business” to ministers is interpreted by courts as ministers are to aid and advise the departments allocated and the departments have to follow them. Just as Council of Ministers aid and advise the President , and he has to follow them.

    Doesn’t such a “allocation of business” rule make an invididual minister bypass 2 constituional bodies i.e the Council of minister, and the President as well? And therefore such an allocation of business rule is unconstitutional?

    Start a discussion.


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