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Council of Ministers


Council of Ministers
Council of Ministers

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Article 74 of the Indian Constitution establishes a structured framework for the Council of Ministers, designating the Prime Minister as its chief to assist and guide the President.


This article clearly delineates the pivotal role of the Prime Minister in shaping the executive branch, emphasising that the President must act on the Prime Minister's advice when appointing other ministers.


Furthermore, it sets a limit on the size of the ministry, which cannot exceed fifteen percent of the total members of the Lok Sabha, ensuring a lean and efficient administration.


Appointment Process and Composition


Role of the Prime Minister

The Prime Minister stands at the core of the ministerial appointment process. As the head of the Council of Ministers, the Prime Minister not only leads the executive branch but also plays a crucial role in advising the President on the selection and appointment of ministers.


This central role underscores the importance of the Prime Minister's position within both the government and the political system at large.


Appointment of Ministers

Ministers are appointed by the President based on the recommendations of the Prime Minister.


This process illustrates the collaborative nature of governmental appointments and the significant influence wielded by the Prime Minister. Ministers may come from either house of Parliament, which allows for a diverse and representative composition of the government.


Notably, there have been instances where Prime Ministers and ministers were not initially members of either house, reflecting the flexible nature of the political system to accommodate various political scenarios.


Limitations and Eligibility

While ministers typically are members of Parliament, there are provisions for appointing non-members to ministerial positions.


These individuals, however, must secure a parliamentary seat within six months of their appointment, ensuring they have the legitimacy and accountability required to serve in government.


This rule is intended to maintain a democratic link between the ministers and the electorate, reinforcing the principles of representative governance.


Furthermore, the Supreme Court has set limitations on these appointments to ensure they adhere to democratic values and constitutional norms, highlighting the judiciary's role in maintaining the integrity of the executive appointment process.

 
 

Supreme Court Clarifications


1. Definition of "Minister"

In the landmark case of SP Anand v HD Deve Gowda, the Supreme Court provided crucial clarification on the definition of "Minister" as stated in Article 75(5) of the Constitution.


The Court ruled that this term inclusively covers the Prime Minister, thereby affirming that no legal distinction exists between the Prime Minister and other ministers. This interpretation ensures a unified approach in the treatment and responsibilities of all ministers under the constitutional framework.


2. Judicial Limitations on Appointments

The Supreme Court has actively intervened to outline and enforce several judicial limitations on ministerial appointments, reinforcing the adherence to democratic principles and constitutional norms. 


Notable cases such as Harsharan Verma v Union of India and SR Chaudhuri v State of Punjab have set precedents in this area. In Harsharan Verma, the Court ruled that ministers who are not members of either house of Parliament may participate in its proceedings but cannot vote, thereby maintaining a balance between allowing executive participation and preserving parliamentary decorum.


Similarly, in SR Chaudhuri v State of Punjab, the Court took a significant step by invalidating the reappointment of ministers who failed to secure membership in the State Legislature within six months.


This ruling emphasises the importance of maintaining a representative government where ministers have a direct democratic mandate from the electorate.


Additionally, in BR Kapoor v State of Tamil Nadu, the Court addressed the eligibility of individuals for ministerial positions, ruling that those disqualified from becoming members of the legislature cannot use the six-month grace period to bypass these disqualifications.


This decision ensures that the provisions allowing non-members to temporarily serve as ministers do not undermine the integrity of the legislative process or the standards set for public office holders.


These cases collectively demonstrate the Supreme Court’s role in shaping the legal landscape around the appointment and functioning of ministers, ensuring that such processes remain consistent with the foundational principles of India's democratic and constitutional structure.



Tenure and Dismissal of Ministers


A. Constitutional Framework

The tenure of ministers in India is not explicitly defined by the Constitution. Instead, it is established that ministers hold their positions at the pleasure of the President, ensuring a dynamic and responsive government aligned with the changing political landscape.


This arrangement implies that ministers are collectively responsible to the Lower House of Parliament (Lok Sabha), and their continued service is dependent on maintaining the confidence of this legislative body.


B. Resignation and Dismissal

A foundational aspect of parliamentary democracy in India is that ministers are expected to resign if they lose the confidence of the Lok Sabha.


This requirement upholds the principle of collective responsibility and ensures that the executive remains accountable to the elected representatives of the people. 


In instances where a council of ministers refuses to vacate office after losing a vote of confidence, the President is granted the discretion to dismiss the council.


This discretionary power is exercised judiciously, reflecting practices from British parliamentary conventions, and is typically reserved for situations where a government continues to hold office despite lacking majority support.


C. Presidential Discretion

The power of the President to dismiss ministers is a topic of ongoing debate and legal interpretation.


While the President usually acts on the recommendation of the Prime Minister when dismissing individual ministers, there are discussions regarding the extent of the President's discretion to act independently in these matters. 


Such dismissals, particularly if they appear arbitrary or unjustified, can lead to significant political and legal challenges, including the possibility of impeachment proceedings, especially if they are perceived as contravening established constitutional conventions.


D. State-Level Comparisons

At the state level, the dismissal of ministers follows similar principles to those at the national level, but with the notable inclusion of Article 356 of the Constitution.


This article provides the President with the authority to dismiss a state government if deemed necessary for maintaining governance in accordance with the Constitution. 


This provision has been historically controversial, invoked in various circumstances that have sometimes led to accusations of misuse for political gains.


Nonetheless, it illustrates the central government's oversight capability over state administrations.


In scenarios where the Lower House is dissolved, the Constitution ensures that ministers continue to serve until a new government is formed or elections are held.


This principle was affirmed by the Supreme Court in UNR Rao v Indira Gandhi, highlighting that the continuity of the executive is crucial for maintaining governance stability, even in periods of legislative uncertainty.

 
 

Executive Powers and Council of Ministers


A. Constitutional Provisions

Article 74 of the Indian Constitution establishes a structured framework for the Council of Ministers, headed by the Prime Minister, to aid and advise the President.


This article specifies the crucial role of the Council in the governance of India, emphasising the advisory capacity of the Council to the President.


While the President retains the ultimate executive authority, the practical execution of these powers is largely delegated to the Council of Ministers.


B. Supreme Court Interpretations

The Supreme Court of India has played a significant role in interpreting the extent and limits of the executive powers held by the Council of Ministers. Landmark cases such as Ram Jawaya Kapur v State of Punjab and Samsher Singh v State of Punjab have clarified that the real executive power rests with the Council of Ministers.


These rulings underscore that, despite the constitutional text that might suggest a more ceremonial role for the President, the operational command resides with the Council, which is collectively responsible to the legislature.


These decisions have also highlighted that the actions undertaken by the Council are not merely advisory but are binding in nature, subject to the President's approval.


The amendment to Article 74, which mandates that the President act according to the advice of the Council, further cements this interpretation, reducing the President's role to a more ceremonial one, except in exceptional circumstances where limited discretion is allowed.


C. Ministerial Prerogatives

The Council of Ministers, led by the Prime Minister, holds substantial sway over both legislative and executive functions.


This body is not only responsible for drafting and implementing major policy decisions but also holds significant influence over the legislative agenda.


The ministers are individually responsible for their respective departments, yet they operate under the collective umbrella of the Council's decisions.


Ministers have the authority to issue directives that shape the functioning of their departments and influence national policy.


This power is balanced by their accountability to the Parliament, ensuring they remain representatives of the electorate's will.


The principle of collective responsibility means that although individual ministers handle specific portfolios, the entire Council stands or falls together based on their overall performance and adherence to policy.


D. Judicial Review and Accountability

Despite the executive power vested in the Council of Ministers, their decisions and actions are subject to judicial review.


This oversight ensures that executive actions comply with the Constitution and uphold the rule of law. Recent interpretations of Article 74(2) have narrowed the confidentiality surrounding ministerial advice, allowing courts to scrutinise decisions more closely, which ensures greater transparency and accountability.

 
 

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