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Topic: Union Government and Administration: Cabinet Secretariat


Before independence, the executive council of the Governor-General was responsible for all government functions. As the amount and complexity of business of the Government increased, the work of the various Departments was distributed amongst the members of the Council-only the more important cases being dealt with by the Governor-General or the Council collectively. This procedure was legalised by the Councils Act of 1861 during the time of Lord Canning, leading to the introduction of the portfolio system and the inception of the Executive Council of the Governor-General.

The Secretariat of the Executive Council was headed by the private Secretary to the Viceroy, but he did not attend the Council meetings. Lord Willington first started the practice of having his Private Secretary by his side at these meetings. Later, this practice continued and in November 1935, the Viceroy’s Private Secretary was given the additional designation of Secretary to the Executive Council.

The constitution of the Interim Government brought a change in the name, though little in functions of this office in September 1946. The Executive Council’s Secretariat was then designated as the Cabinet Secretariat. It seems, however, at least in retrospect, that Independence brought a sort of change in the functions of the Cabinet Secretariat. It no longer remained concerned with only the passive work of circulating papers to Ministers and Ministries but developed into an organization for effecting coordination between the Ministries.

An Economic Committee of the Cabinet was set up in February 1949 with a view to speedily considering the proposals in the economic field. The Secretariat of this Committee was located in the Ministry of Finance till June 1950, when it was made a part of the Cabinet Secretariat and was designated as the Economic Wing. Later to ensure better coordination and to avoid unnecessary duplication in the secretariat functions, this Wing was merged with the main Secretariat in October 1955.

In 1954, the Organisation and Methods Division was established and placed under the Cabinet Secretariat. In May 1964, the O&M Division was transferred from the Cabinet Secretariat to the Ministry of Home Affairs and is presently in the Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances of the Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pension.

In 1957, a significant addition to the scope of the Cabinet Secretariat’s functions took place with the constitution of a Defence Committee of the Cabinet. A separate wing called the Military Wing was established in the Cabinet Secretariat for providing secretariat assistance to the Committee. The officers for this Wing are drawn from the Defence Services. The Military Wing has been transferred to the Ministry of Defence with effect from. 1st July, 1991.

In April 1961, the Department of Statistics was created as a part of the Cabinet Secretariat and was transferred to the Ministry of Planning in February 1973. The Ministry of Planning has been renamed ‘Ministry of Planning and Programme Implementation’ since July 1991.

Department of Special Economic Coordination was set up under Cabinet Secretariat on 16th June 1962 and it was transferred to the then Ministry of Economic Defence Coordination on 14th November, 1962. Presently no such department exists in the Government of India. In July 1965, the Intelligence Wing was set up as a part of the Cabinet Secretariat, to provide secretariat assistance to the Joint Intelligence Committee.

The Bureau of Public Enterprises was brought under the Cabinet Secretariat as a subject from the Ministry of Finance on 25th January. 1966 and transferred to the then Department of Coordination under the Ministry of Finance on 2nd June, 1966. Later on the Bureau of Public Enterprises was transferred to the Department of Economic Affairs under the Ministry of Finance on 13th June. 1967. On 25th September, 1985 the Bureau of Public Enterprises was transferred to the then newly’ created Department of Public Enterprises under the Ministry’ of Industry.

On 26th June, 1970 besides the Department of Cabinet Affairs and the Department of Statistics under the Cabinet Secretariat, three more departments were created under the Cabinet Secretariat, namely, (i) Department of Electronics. (ii) Department of Scientific and Industrial Research and (iii) Department of Personnel.

On 29th July, 1970 The Directorate General of Revenue Intelligence-cum-Directorate of Enforcement was set up in the Department of Cabinet. Affairs under Cabinet Secretariat and on 1st August, 1970 shifted to Department of Personnel.

The Department of Scientific and Industrial Research which was created under the Cabinet Secretariat on 26-6-1970 became an independent department known as “Vigyan Aur Pradyogtki Vibhag” on 3rd May. 1971.
The Department of Electronics which was created under the Cabinet Secretariat on 26-6-1970 also became an independent department on 17th June, 1971.

On 7-2-1973, the Department of Statistics which was a part of Cabinet Secretariat since 9th April 1961 was transferred to the Ministry of Planning and simultaneously the Department of Personnel was renamed ‘Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms’ on 7-2-1973. On 7-4-1977, Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms was transferred to the Ministry of Home Affairs from the Cabinet Secretariat.
At present the Department of Personnel and Administrative Reforms is a part of Ministry of Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions with the bifurcation as the Department of Personnel & Training and Department of Administrative Reforms and Public Grievances.

On 24th July, 1981 a new department, namely, ‘Department of Ocean Development’ was created under Cabinet Secretariat which became an independent department on 12th February, 1982.

The Directorate of Public Grievances was set up in the Cabinet Secretariat with effect from 25th March. 1988 to entertain grievances from public after the complainants fail to get satisfactory redressed from the Ministry/Department concerned within a reasonable period of time. The Directorate is authorised to take up grievances in respect of the Ministry of Railways, Ministry of Urban Development, Ministry of Surface Transport, Ministry of Civil Aviation, Department of Posts Department of Telecommunication, the Banking Division and the Small Savings Division of the Department of Economic Affairs.

The above description gives an account of frequent changes made from time to time in the administrative structure of the Cabinet Secretariat due to the reorganization of the executive functions of the Union Government.


The Cabinet Secretariat is headed by the Prime Minister who is assisted by a Cabinet Secretary and other secretariat staff.

The cabinet secretariat is organised in three wings:

1. The Civil wing,
2. The Military wing, and
3. Intelligence wing.

1. The Main Civil Secretariat: The main civil wing is the institutional machinery through which the Cabinet Secretary provides the secretarial service to the cabinet and its committees. It also provides secretarial service to the committees of secretaries which ‘function under the chairmanship of the Cabinet Secretary. It also deals with the framing of Rules of Business of the Union Government.

2. The Military Wing: The military wing provides secretarial service to the Defence Committee of the Cabinet, National Security Council, Military Affairs Committee and a number of other committees concerned with defence matters.

3. The Intelligence Wing: The Intelligence wing concerns itself with matters relating to the Joint Intelligence Committee of the Cabinet.Apart from the main secretariat, the Cabinet Secretariat comprises of four organisations:

1. Director General of Security,
2. Research and Analysis Wing,
3. Joint Intelligence Committee, and
4. Special Protection Group.

On the basis of the Report of the Fifth Central Pay Commission, details of the sanctioned strength of personnel in different categories in the Cabinet Secretariat are tabulated below:

Functions of the Cabinet Secretariat

The Cabinet Secretariat has a very important place in the Central administration. It is such a source of authority the assistance of which enables the central government to undertake any matter of serious responsibility. The cabinet secretariat now possessing the relevant specialised field is in a position to (execute) carry out its responsibilities with greater competence, initiative and efficiency. Some of the important functions of the cabinet secretariat are as under;

1. To prepare the Cabinet agenda and its minutes, to keep its records and to keep track of the progress made by administrative ministries and the department in executing the cabinet decisions.
2. To know the implementing position of the decisions of the cabinet, it (cabinet, secretariat) calls for information from the various ministries and the departments which is subsequently passed on to the cabinet wherever it (cabinet) holds its meeting.
3. To inform the President, the Vice-President and the Council of Ministers about the major activities of the government conducted in several ministries.
4. To circulate the monthly summaries and brief notes on important matters for collecting the information relating to the major activities of the government conducted in the various ministries.
5. To prepare minutes of the meetings of the cabinet and its committees.
6. To render its services to the committee of secretaries meeting periodically under the chairmanship of the cabinet secretary. This committee of the secretaries meets to consider and advise on problems requiring inter-ministerial consultation and co-ordination.
7. To lay down the rules of business and re-allocating the business of the government of India among the various ministries and the departments within the frame work of directives of the Prime Minister, after these have been approved by the President.
8. To establish co-ordination between the various Seminars organised by the different central ministries.
9. To work as the liaison agency between the state government and the central cabinet.


The function of the Cabinet Secretariat is to provide secretarial assistance to the cabinet and its various committees. Its responsibilities include preparation of agenda for the meetings of the cabinet, providing information and material necessary for its deliberations, keeping a record of the discussions in the cabinet and of the decisions taken there, circulation of memoranda on issues awaiting cabinet’s approval, circulation of the decisions to all the ministries and preparation and submission of monthly summaries on a large number of specified subjects to the cabinet. It also oversees the implementation of the cabinet decisions by the concerned ministries and other executive agencies. For this purpose, it can call for information from the various ministries/departments. In accordance with the instructions issued by the Cabinet Secretariat, each ministry sends it a monthly statement showing the progress in the cases relating to cabinet decisions. In case a ministry is falling behind schedule, the matter is taken up with it to accelerate the implementation process. It keeps the President, the Vice-President and all the ministries informed of the major activities of the government by circulating monthly summaries and brief notes on important matters. Article 77 (3) of the Indian Constitution authorizes the President to make rules for the convenient transaction of the business of the government and for its proper allocation among ministers. Work relating to the drafting of such Rules of Business is handled in the Cabinet Secretariat, which provides the necessary assistance to the cabinet committees as well.

The next important role of the Cabinet Secretariat is that of functioning as the prime coordinating agency in the Government of India. It ensures that in matters coming before the cabinet or its committees, the cases presented are complete and coherent and, in particular, that the rules for business transactions, especially the procedures for inter-ministry consultations, have been adequately complied with. Where two ministries are unable to agree upon a point of view and, more particularly, where the views of the Finance Ministry differ from those of the administrative ministry incharge of the subject, care must be taken that the different points of view are fairly and properly presented in the papers to be placed on the agenda for a cabinet meeting. The normal rule is that if two ministries disagree on a certain point, the case is submitted to the cabinet for orders. While this is done on questions of policy, there remains a vast spectrum of administrative matters for which the cabinet may not be pressed for a decision time and again. The cabinet ministers are also hard pressed for time and, hence, the different secretaries meet under the aegis of the Cabinet Secretariat and try to sort out matters. For instance, in 1988, there was dispute between the Finance Ministry and the Commerce Ministry over the imposition of special tax and granting concessions on software concerning it. The dispute was resolved by a team of secretaries appointed by the Cabinet Secretary for this purpose.

Lastly, several cases are brought before the Cabinet Secretariat involving the President, the Prime Minister, various ministries and the Parliament, on which it provides aid, advice and assistance. Some of them are:

1. Cases involving legislation including the issuing of ordinances.
2. Addresses and messages of the President to the Parliament.
3. Proposals to summon or prorogue the Parliament or dissolve the Lok Sabha.
4. Cases involving negotiations with foreign countries on treaties, agreements etc.
5. Proposals for sending delegations of persons abroad in any capacity.
6. Proposals to appoint public committees of enquiry and consideration of reports of such committees of enquiry.
7. Cases involving financial implications,”
8. Cases which a minister puts to the cabinet for decision and direction.
9. Cases of disagreements among ministries,
10. Proposals to vary or reverse decisions.
11. Cases which the President or the Prime Minister may require to be put before the cabinet.
12. Proposals to withdraw prosecutions instituted by the government.

Cabinet Secretary

The Cabinet Secretariat functions under the leadership of the Prime Minister who is its minister-incharge at the political level. Its administrative head is the Cabinet Secretary. The Cabinet Secretary is drawn from the senior most officers of the Indian Administrative Service. A few words may be said of the qualifications required for this most important civil servant of the country. Gopalaswamy Ayyangar had this to say on the subject:
He [the Cabinet Secretary] should be an administrative officer of the highest rank, selected for the office for his special qualities of tact, energy, initiative, and efficiency and he should be en trusted as head of the Cabinet Secretariat with the positive function of securing coordination as well as timely and effective action by all departments of the Government of India in all matters in which the Cabinet as a whole or the Prime Minister is interested. He should be a person commanding the respect and confidence of all ranks of the permanent services.’

S. S. Khera also observes much the same thing about his qualifications. He states: “The public servant who reaches the seniority to qualify him as Cabinet Secretary has long years of experience of different kinds in the field of government and public administration.” What is implied and evident is that he should be a man of rich administrative experience. In the official warrant of precedence, he has been given the highest place among the civil servants being the senior most Civil Servant of the land he is the pivot of the cabinet system. During the meetings of the Cabinet, he sits by the side of PM to brief him on various points on the agenda. The Cabinet Secretary chairs the meetings of the committee of the secretaries and also presides when called on conferences of the chief secretaries. The position of cabinet secretary could be explained in between the lines of the Report on Re-organisation of the Machinery of Government (1949) by N. Gopalaswami Ayyangar: “There is a need to understand the status and functions of the cabinet secretary. The selection of this administrative officer should be on the basis of his special qualities of tact, initiative, efficiency and energy. Moreover, he should be entrusted as the head of the cabinet secretariat for securing co-ordination in all matters in which the cabinet as a whole or the Prime Minister might like to direct. He should be the administrative leader to command the respect and confidence of all ranks of civil service. So that the civil servants come to him for advice and guidance whenever there are interdepartmental difficulties. He is of a sort of adviser and conscience keeper to all the ranks of civil service in the central government administrative system.”

The Cabinet Secretary’s office was created in India in 1950 after Independence and N.R. Pillai was the first Cabinet Secretary. Generally he is the senior-most civil servant of the country, therefore, seniority should be given weight age along with merit in the selection of a Cabinet Secretary. Seniority alone is not an overriding factor. There have been innumerable instances in the past when the senior most officer has been superseded while selections are carried for this post. P.K. Kaul, B.G. Deshmukh, V.C. Pande, Naresh Chandra, and Zafar Saifullah were not the seniormost from their respective batches. The empirical evidence thus tends to show that in India the principle established in the matter of appointment of the Cabinet Secretary appears to be his acceptability to the Government of the day. The relevant point is that the practice of changing the Cabinet Secretary with the change of government is wrong and harmful. It is against the sound principles of administration and should, therefore, be ended.

The Administrative Reforms Commission had recommended that a Cabinet Secretary should be given a three-year tenure. Such a tenure is necessary to enable him to take decisions in a right perspective and to initiate steps and measures and ensure he is there to implement them. It also enables him to withstand undue political and other pressures and take right decisions in public interest. It will also preserve and maintain the high service morale. A full tenure of three years provides stability and helps in evolving a warm working relationship between PMO and the Cabinet Secretary and it also helps in the enormous amount of work that the two dozen Secretaries to the various governments get done. The committee of Secretaries has lost the gloss and sheen associated with it in the eighies. Virtually a major portion of the country’s administrative decisions that were thrashed out in this meeting also helped tie up loose ends and iron out the glitches among various ministries, now it is not one-fourth as effective as it was then. The reason was simple: you had a cabinet secretary who had the authority and the tenure to push his team to achieve results. The no fixed tenure posts results in a flabby and unsure bureaucracy that is now led by a captain who is changed every year. How can we expect the system to deliver in such a sorry situation?

By now there have been 22 Cabinet Secretaries (upto August 1994) and the average tenure is about a year and eleven months. The last two Cabinet Secretaries were, therefore, only for a year each.

The no fixed tenure generated the phenomenon of extension. Giving extension to the Cabinet Secretary is undesirable as it only makes his position untenable and open to all sorts of rumours and allegations. The Cabinet Secretary should be appointed for a fixed tenure and if this needs giving him an extension then it should be done at the time of his appointment.

The Prime Minister should not only play favourites while appointing a new Cabinet Secretary. Favouritism makes the position of the Cabinet Secretary vulnerable and he has, of course, to pay back the favour to the Prime Minister and in the process he loses his moral authority over the Civil Service.

Role of the Cabinet Secretary

Cabinet Secretary is the head of the civil services and chief adviser to the council of Ministers and the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and its committees. He coordinates the activities of various ministries, and departments. He is the link between the Prime Minister’s office and various administrative departments. He is the link between the political part of Government, i.e., the Cabinet and the apolitical governmental machinery, i.e., the bureaucracy. Our first Prime Minister Pandit Jawahar Lal Nehru decided to have a Cabinet Secretary who would not be a part of the Prime Minister’s office, deviating British Practice. In Britain there is no secretary to the Prime Minister and many a times the Cabinet. Secretary is involved in the functioning of Prime Minister’s Office. Lord Mountbatten gave sound advice to Panditji to have Secretary to the Prime Minister different from the Cabinet Secretary so that the latter’s position would not be politicised.

The main functions of the Cabinet Secretary according to the Statutory rules of business is to provide Secretariat assistance to Cabinet and’ Cabinet Committees, and to formulate rules of business of the Government. Its main tasks are namely to prepare proposals for the Cabinet after consultations with concerned ministries and departments to constantly monitor and coordinate implementation of decisions taken by the Cabinet and prepare papers connected with the appointments that the Prime Minister has to make. Some general issues are taken up in the committee of Secretaries and others like internal security are carefully analysed in the core group comprising the Cabinet Secretary, the principal secretary to the Prime Minister, the home secretary, the defence secretary, Secretary RAW, the director of the Intelligence Bureau (OIB) and the Chairman of the Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) and, on rare occasions, the Secretary concerned may also be invited to the core group meetings.

The most important function of the Cabinet Secretary of late, pertains to the internal security and sifting through intelligence. It is his duty to make a co-ordinate assessment of a given situation or problem by absorbing the source report. If the issue is resolved in the core group, the matter is not referred to the Prime Minister or the Cabinet.

It is for the Cabinet Secretary to ensure fair administration of the services. The Cabinet Secretary has the unenviable task of seeing that certain unhealthy linkages do not develop. He should be answerable for any decision taken, and also impart an all India look and character to the administrative departments of various ministries. However. despite his multi-faceted role, the Cabinet Secretary has no say in judicial appointments.

The Prime Minister also gives him specific tasks from time to time like B.G. Deshmukh a former Cabinet Secretary was asked to set up a committee to monitor the Sri Lanka situation or to take urgent action to tackle the Maldive crises. He can also on his own initiative take certain matters he thinks necessary and urgent, like supervising steps to be taken to increase exports. Further, while taking initiative in any particular matter, he has to ensure that the concerned Minister or Secretary to the Ministry or Department does not feel that his turf is encroached upon. In very rare cases, he has to involve the Prime Minister’s name or authority of course after getting the latter’s informal clearance.

He is very close to the Prime Minister but he has to ensure that his politically neutral image is in no way compromised. His proximity to the Prime Minister also generates resentment and jealousies amongst Ministers and even influential politicians. Therefore, he has to be very careful not to get involved in any controversies. As the head of the civil service he has to be impartial and not play favourites, and observe the highest tradition of the civil service. He is not seen to be indifferent to the interest of non-IAS Civil Servants. He has to be a father figure to the Civil Service and enjoy its trust fully. He is not only the principal adviser to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet but also monitors and co-ordinates activities of various ministers and departments; frames new policy initiatives. The Cabinet Secretariat also serves as an umbrella organisation for various new agencies which, for any reason, cannot be located in any particular ministry or department. Even though as per tradition the Cabinet Secretary belongs to the ICS or IAS cadres, once he takes up as the Cabinet Secretary, he does not belong to any of these services and ensures that all get due recognition and proper share of senior posts. He is the first among equals vis-a-vis his senior colleagues, but he has to justify this role by his own conduct and behaviour. He has not only to act but has also to be seen to act with fairness and impartiality.

He is a link between the political system and the civil service, mentions B. G. Deshmukh a former Cabinet Secretary "This political interface is a very thin line and he has literally to walk the tightrope ...." The orders of the political leadership have to be obeyed but then a mature and competent Cabinet Secretary has always managed to ensure that this does not damage the structure of the civil service and affect its morale. While the political system has accepted his advice in most cases. it is unfair to expect this to happen in every case. He is expected to be not only the record-keeper but. Often, even the conscience-keeper of the Cabinet. To be more knowledgeable than the rest of the pack in the corridors of power. To be a jack, nay, king of all trades. Mr. Mirnal Mukherji, Cabinet Secretary from 1977-1980, who had worked with three Prime Ministers narrating his experience, says, “with Mr. Morarji Desai my equation was more or less equal. With Charan Singhji I was the guide. And, well, with Indirajt I was given the cold shoulder treatment.

Recalling his experience Mr. V.C. Pandey says that somehow most of the unpleasant tasks end up with the Cabinet Secretaries. He recalls an incident when he was asked by the then foreign minister. Mr. I.K. Gujral, to inform the Indian ambassador in the U.K.. Mr. M.K. Rasgotra, to resign from his post. “Though not very keen on the task, I had to do the dirty job. The role of the Cabinet Secretary has been lucidly discussed by Khera.
‘’The Cabinet Secretary provided the eyes and ears for the Prime Minister to keep in touch with the process of official business in the central government. But he is in no sense the watch-dog or invigilator on behalf of the Prime Minister. The worst thing that could happen would be for any members of the Council of Ministers to feel that the Cabinet Secretary or for that matter, any other official is not to spy on him, or that the official may have the ear of the Prime Minister to carry tales. The Cabinet Secretary’s is a very general staff function, not a line function in relation to the ministries. His business is to help not to oversee. There are two other rather out of the ordinary functions performed by the Cabinet Secretary. ‘’The first is when the Cabinet Secretary has to act on his own authority and responsibility without the benefit of resort to the Prime Minister. Secondly, the “Cabinet Secretary may also be called to serve on occasions as a sort of general official factotum, whom the Prime Minister deems thus to be necessary.

In brief, the Cabinet Secretary is usually the seniormost civil servant of the country and the official warrant of precedence gives him the first place among the civil servants. Ever since the appointment of the first incumbent to this post in 1950 the Cabinet Secretary invariably belonged to the cadre of the ICS till the retirement of N.K. Mukherji, the last of the cadre. After him there have been top IAS cadre officers to occupy this position. The present incumbent is T.S.R. Subramanian a senior IAS officer of the U.P. cadre. The Cabinet Secretary works under the direct control of the Prime Minister. The institution of Cabinet Secretary had suffered quite a few heavy blows even before the present sordid scramble for the post could begin. Generally, three factors have been responsible for this. The first was the phenomenal rise in the power of the Prime Minister’s Principal Secretary or Secretary, making him rather than the Cabinet Secretary, the dominant civil service figure. From the time of P.N. Haksar to the time of Mr. A. N. Verma and present incumbent; this trend has continued “The Principal Secretary of the P.M. is not the Chief Secretary of the government of India. His office seems to have emerged as an alternative power centre. It can lead to a number of embarrassing situations.” Remarked, one former Cabinet Secretary, Secondly, the short tenures of Cabinet Secretaries during one decade have inevitably eroded the prestige of the post. The third and the most damaging assault on the office of· Cabinet Secretary has been the, objectionable practice under which the Cabinet Secretary changes every time the government changes, while in Britain a Cabinet Secretary serves more than 10 years.

Administrative Reforms Commission(I) and the Cabinet Secretariat

The Administrative Reforms Commission was appointed by the government to study the machinery of the government of India and its procedures of work. The Commission submitted its report in 1968. Some of its important recommendations relating to Cabinet Secretariat are as under:-

(a) Every sub-committee of the cabinet should be supported by a Committee of Secretaries in the Cabinet Secretariat .to consider in advance all matters to be taken up in the cabinet sub-committee.
(b) About the role of the cabinet secretary, the commission expressed its views that his role should not be limited to that of a co-ordinator. The Cabinet Secretary should also act as the principal staff adviser to the Prime Minister. The cabinet and the cabinet committee on important policy matters. The term of office of the Cabinet Secretary should be three to four years in the cabinet secretariat.

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