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Cabinet Committees

Introduction

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 is the federal and supreme legislative body of India. It consists of two houses – the Lower House – House of the People called Lok Sabha and the Upper House- Council of States called Rajya Sabha.

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.

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