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 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.