• Before the adoption of the portfolio system in the Government of India, all Governmental business was disposed of by the Governor-General in Council, the Council functioning as a Joint Consultative Board.
  • 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 legalized by the Indian Councils Act, 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 Willingdon 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. But these posts were separated subsequently, and a separate Secretary was appointed to the Executive Council as distinct from the Private Secretary to the Viceroy and Governor General.
  • Constitution of the Interim Government in September 1946 brought a change in the name of this Office. On 5th September, 1946, the Secretariat of the Executive Council was designated as Cabinet Secretariat, and the Secretary to the Executive Council as Cabinet Secretary.
    • 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 work of circulating papers to Ministers and Ministries, but developed into an organisation for effecting coordination between the Ministries.


  • The Cabinet Secretariat functions directly under the Prime Minister. The administrative head of the Secretariat is the Cabinet Secretary who is also the ex-officio Chairman of the Civil Services Board. The business allocated to Cabinet Secretariat under Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961 includes
    • Secretarial assistance to the Cabinet and Cabinet Committees; and
    • Rules of Business.
  • The Cabinet Secretariat is responsible for the administration of the Government of India (Transaction of Business) Rules, 1961 and Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961 facilitating smooth transaction of business in Ministries/ Departments.
  • The Secretariat assists in decision-making in Government by ensuring Inter-Ministerial coordination, ironing out differences amongst Ministries/Departments and evolving consensus through the instrumentality of the standing/adhoc Committees of Secretaries. Management of major crisis situations in the country and coordinating activities of various ministries in such a situation is also one of the functions of the Cabinet Secretariat.

Allocation and disposal of Government Business

  • The Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules, 1961 (AoB Rules) and the Government of India (Transaction of Business) Rules, 1961 (ToB Rules) have been framed under Article 77 (3) of the Constitution of India.
    • The First Schedule to the AoB Rules specifies the Ministries, Department, Offices and Secretariats while the Second Schedule lists out the business allocated to different Ministries/ Departments of the Government of India.
  • The ToB Rules lay down the procedure for disposal of business and decision making in Government of India. The business of the Government of India is normally disposed of at various levels within the Ministries/ Departments by, or under the general or special directions of the Minister-in-charge subject to requisite inter-Departmental consultations stipulated in the ToB Rules.
    • Further, the ToB Rules specify the cases for which approval of the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and its Committees, and of the President is required. The cases that require approval of Cabinet are indicated in the Second Schedule to the ToB Rules, and those requiring approval of the Committees of the Cabinet are indicated in the First Schedule to the ToB Rules.
    • The cases that require submission to the Prime Minister and the President are listed in the Third Schedule to the ToB Rules. Accordingly, while a significant portion of the Government business gets disposed of at the departmental level, certain cases, or class of cases that are important from the national perspective, require approval of the Cabinet or one of the Committees of the Cabinet.

Support to Cabinet Committees

The secretarial assistance, provided by Cabinet Secretariat to the Cabinet and Cabinet committees, includes

  • Convening of the meetings of the Cabinet & its Committees on the orders of the Prime Minister.
  • Preparation and circulation of the agenda.
  • Circulation of papers related to the cases on the agenda.
  • Preparation of record of discussions.
  • Circulation of the record of discussions after obtaining the approval of the Prime Minister.
  • Monitoring implementation of decisions taken by the Cabinet and its Committees.

The Cabinet Secretariat is the custodian of the papers of the Cabinet meetings.

Promotion of Inter-Ministerial Coordination

  • Among the inter-Ministerial matters, the coordination is required for:
    • Removing difficulties.
    • Removing differences.
    • Overcoming delays.
    • Coordination in administrative action.
    • Coordination of policies.
  • While each Ministry is responsible for acting on its own for expeditious implementation of Government policies, plans and programmes, where inter-Ministerial cooperation is involved, they often seek the assistance of the Cabinet Secretariat. The inter-Ministerial problems are dealt with in the meetings of the Committees of Secretaries (COS). Committees are constituted for discussing specific matters and proposals emanating from various Secretaries to the Government and meetings are held under the chairmanship of the Cabinet Secretary. These committees have been able to break bottlenecks or secure mutually supporting inter-Ministerial action.
  • The discussions of the COS take place on the basis of a paper formulated by the principal Department concerned and the Department with a different point of view, if any, providing a supplementary note. The decisions or recommendations of the COS are unanimous. These proceedings are also circulated to and are followed up by the Departments. There are other important functions which it discharges, viz.
    • Monitoring.
    • Coordination.
    • Promoting new policy initiatives.
  • The Cabinet Secretariat is seen as a useful mechanism by the Departments for promoting inter-Ministerial coordination since the Cabinet Secretary is also the head of the civil services. Ministries/ Departments through the system of monthly DO letters apprise the Cabinet Secretary about important issues/ developments pertaining to their respective Ministry/ Department. A monthly report is also sent by Ministries/ Departments to the Cabinet Secretariat providing details on a wider range of issues such as important policy matters, compliance of CoS decisions, sanction for prosecution pending for more than 3 months, departure from ToB Rules, implementation of e-Governance etc.
Previous Year Question

Q.1) Which of the following is/are the function/functions of the Cabinet Secretariat? (2014)

  1. Preparation of agenda for Cabinet Meetings
  2. Secretarial assistance to Cabinet Committees
  3. Allocation of financial resources to the Ministries

Select the correct answer using the code given below.

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 and 3 only
  3. 1 and 2 only
  4. 1, 2 and 3

Q.2) Consider the following statements: (2016)

  1. The Chief Secretary in a State is appointed by the Governor of that State.
  2. The Chief Secretary in a State has a fixed tenure.

Which of the statements given above is / are correct?

  1. 1 only
  2. 2 only
  3. Both 1 and 2
  4. Neither 1 nor 2

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