The Union Executive & Council of Ministers

Three Organs of the Government

Legislature, Executive and Judiciary are the three organs of government. Together, they perform the functions of the government, maintain law and order and look after the welfare of the people. The Constitution ensures that they work in coordination with each other and maintain a balance among themselves.

When the Constitution of India was written, India already had some experience of running the parliamentary system under the Acts of 1919 and 1935.


In a democratic country, two categories make up the executive. One that is elected by the people for a specific period, is called the political executive. Political leaders who take the big decisions fall in this category. In the second category, people are appointed on a long-term basis. This is called the permanent executive or civil services.

The Constitution adopted the parliamentary system of executive for the governments both at the national and State levels. According to this system, there is a President who is the formal Head of the state of India and the Prime Minister and the Council of Ministers, which run the government at the national level. At the State level, the executive comprises the Governor and the Chief Minister and Council of Ministers.

The Constitution of India vests the executive power of the Union formally in the President. In reality, the President exercises these powers through the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister.

Prime Minister and Council of Ministers

Appointment and Selection

Prime Minister is the most important political institution in the country. The President appoints the leader of the majority party or the coalition of parties that commands a majority in the Lok Sabha, as Prime Minister. The Prime Minister does not have a fixed tenure. He continues in power so long as he remains the leader of the majority party or coalition.

After the appointment of the Prime Minister, the President appoints other ministers on the advice of the Prime Minister. The Ministers are usually from the party or the coalition that has the majority in the Lok Sabha. The Prime Minister is free to choose ministers, as long as they are members of Parliament. Sometimes, a person who is not a member of Parliament can also become a minister. But such a person has to get elected to one of the Houses of the Parliament within six months of appointment as minister.

Size of Council of Ministers

The 91st Amendment Act (2003) made that the Council of Ministers shall not exceed 15% of total number of members of the House of People (or Assembly, in the case of the states).

PM is Head of Council of Ministers

The PM is at the head of the Council of Ministers and the Council cannot continue to exist in the event of resignation or death of the Prime Minister. The term Council of Minister refers to all the Ministers, whether Cabinet, State or Deputy Ministers. The Council comes into existence only after the Prime Minister has taken the oath of office.

Responsible to Lok Sabha

The Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha. This provision means that a Ministry which loses confidence of the Lok Sabha is obliged to resign. The principle indicates that the ministry is an executive committee of the Parliament and it collectively governs on behalf of the Parliament. 

The entire Council of Ministers seldom meets as a single body. It is the Cabinet, an inner group within the Council, which takes all major decisions and which shapes the government policy. While Cabinet Ministers can attend all Cabinet meetings as a matter of right, the Deputy Ministers and Ministers of State can come to the meeting only if they are invited.

Ministers may be chosen from either House of Parliament and a minister, who is member of one house, has a right to speak and participate in the proceedings of the other House, but he cannot vote there.

Types of Ministers

Council of Ministers is the official name for the body that includes all the Ministers. It usually has 60 to 80 Ministers of different ranks. The Council of Ministers consists of three categories of Ministers:

  1. Cabinet Ministers
  2. State Ministers
  3. Deputy Ministers

Cabinet Ministers are usually top-level leaders of the ruling party or parties who are in charge of the major ministries. Usually the Cabinet Ministers meet to take decisions in the name of the Council of Ministers. Cabinet is thus the inner ring of the Council of Ministers. It comprises about 20 ministers.

Ministers of State with independent charge are usually in-charge of smaller Ministries. They participate in the Cabinet meetings only when specially invited.

Ministers of State are attached to and required to assist Cabinet Ministers.

Since it is not practical for all ministers to meet regularly and discuss everything, the decisions are taken in Cabinet meetings. That is why parliamentary democracy in most countries is often known as the Cabinet form of government. The Cabinet works as a team. The ministers may have different views and opinions, but everyone has to own up to every decision of the Cabinet.

Every ministry has secretaries, who are civil servants. The secretaries provide the necessary background information to the ministers to take decisions.

Nominal and Real Executives

President is head of the state and PM (Prime Minister) is head of the government. Article 74 provides for council of ministers headed by PM (head of government). Article 75 states that the Council of Minister is collectively responsible to the Lok Sabha.

Prime Minister

The Prime Minister is appointed by the President. The minimum age required is 25 years, as he can be the member of either house if not, must be within 6 months. In normal circumstances, the President can hardly exercise his discretion; the President's choice to appoint the Prime Minister is restricted to the leader of the Party with majority of Lok Sabha.

If no party is in a position to gain the required majority and if a coalition Govt is to be formed, the President can exercise his discretion in choosing the prime Minister. The President can choose the leader of any party, who in his opinion can form a stable Government.

Powers of Prime Minister

The Constitution does not say very much about the powers of the Prime Minister or the ministers or their relationship with each other. But as head of the government, the Prime Minister has wide ranging powers. 

He chairs Cabinet meetings. He coordinates the work of different Departments. His decisions are final in case disagreements arise between Departments. He exercises general supervision of different ministries. All ministers work under his leadership. The Prime Minister distributes and redistributes work to the ministers. He also has the power to dismiss ministers. When the Prime Minister quits, the entire ministry quits.


While the Prime Minister is the head of the government, the President is the head of the State. In India, the head of the State exercises only nominal powers. The President supervises the overall functioning of all the political institutions in the country so that they operate in harmony to achieve the objectives of the State.


The President is not elected directly by the people. The elected Members of Parliament (MPs) and the elected  Members of the Legislative Assemblies (MLAs) elect the President.


The President can be removed from office only by Parliament by following the procedure for impeachment. This procedure requires a special majority. The only ground for impeachment is violation of the Constitution.

Powers of President

All governmental activities take place in the name of the President. All laws and major policy decisions of the government are issued in the name of President. All major appointments are made in the name of the President. These include the appointment of the Chief Justice of India, the Judges of the Supreme Court and the High Courts of the states, the Governors of the states, the Election Commissioners, ambassadors to other countries, etc.

All international treaties and agreements are made in the name of the President. The President is the supreme commander of the defence forces of India.

1. The President can send back the advice given by the Council of Ministers and ask the Council to reconsider the decision. The Council can send back the same advice and the President is then bound by that advice.

2. The President has veto power by which he can withhold or refuse to give assent to Bills (other than Money Bill) passed by the Parliament. Every bill passed by the Parliament goes to the President for his assent before it becomes a law. The President can send the bill back to the Parliament asking it to reconsider the bill (Pocket Veto).

3. The President appoints the Prime Minister. Normally, in the parliamentary system, a leader who has the support of the majority in the Lok Sabha would be appointed as Prime Minister.

Vice President

The Vice President is elected for five years. Election method is similar to that of the President, the only difference is that members of State legislatures are not part of the electoral college. The Vice President may be removed from his office by a resolution of the Rajya Sabha passed by a majority and agreed to by the Lok Sabha.

The Vice President acts as the ex-officio Chairman of the Rajya Sabha and takes over the office of the President when there is a vacancy by reasons of death, resignation, removal by impeachment or otherwise. For example, B. D. Jatti acted as President on the death of Fakhruddin Ali Ahmed until a new President was elected.