Public Accountability : Executive



  • One of the most important questions which engaged the attention of the framers of the Constitution was the nature of the Executive and its relation with the Legislature. Dr. Ambedkar observed in introducing the Constitution:


  • The decision of the Constituent Assembly on the form of Government in India was considerably influenced by the political background of India and the practice and traditions evolved during the British rule2. It is, therefore, not surprising that from the initial stages of the discussions on the principles of the new Constitution, opinion appears to have been overwhelmingly in favour of adopting for India an Executive responsible to the Legislature in accordance with the British tradition. Dr. Ambedkar made an exhaustive and authoritative statement on the general character of the Executive while introducing the Draft Constitution in the Constituent Assembly on November 4, 1948. He observed, inter-alia: “The Parliamentary system differs from a non-Parliamentary system in as much as the former is more responsible than the latter but they also differ as to the time and agency for assessment of their responsibility. Under the Non-Parliamentary system, such as the one that exists in the United States of America, the assessment of the responsibility of the executive is periodic. It takes place once in two years.


  • It is done by the electorate. In England, where the Parliamentary System prevails, the assessment of responsibility of the executive is both daily and periodic. The daily assessment is done by members of Parliament, through questions, resolutions, no-confidence motions, adjournment motions and debates on Addresses. Periodic assessment is done by the electorate at the time of the election-which may take place every five years or earlier. The daily assessment of responsibility which is not available under the American system is, it is felt far more effective than the periodic assessment and far more necessary in a country like India. The Draft Constitution in recommending the Parliamentary System of executive has preferred more responsibility to more stability.”.3In furtherance of this, the Constitution of India elaborately defines, the position, powers and the inter-relationships of the various organisations of State and of other institutions.



  • The Constitution of India provides for a Parliament consisting of an elected President4and the two Houses the House of the People (Lok Sabha) and the Council of States (Rajya Sabha).5 The President appoints the Prime Minister and on his advice the other Ministers of the Council of Ministers. The Council of Ministers is collectively responsible to the House of the People.6 The President summons the two Houses of Parliament to meet from time to time. He can prorogue the two Houses and can dissolve the House of the People. The interval between two sessions must not exceed six Months.


  • Parliament in India usually meets for about seven months in a year in three Sessions: The Budget Session (Feb.-May), the Monsoon Session (July-Aug.) and the Winter Session (Nov.-Dec.)*. The first session after the General Elections and the first session each year begins with an Address by the President.8 The sweep and scope of the legislative jurisdiction and other powers of Parliament under the Constitution are vast. The constituent power also vests in Parliament and the sovereign will of the people may be said to find expression only through the collective decisions of their elected representatives in Parliament. Nevertheless, Parliament of India is neither sovereign nor supreme.



  • The authority and jurisdiction of Parliament are limited by the Powers of the other organs, the distribution of legislative powers between the Union and the States,10the incorporation of a code of justiciable fundamental rights,11 the general provision for Judicial review and an independent judiciary. The Supreme Court can declare a law passed by Parliament null and void, as violative of fundamental rights, or as contravening other provisions of the Constitution. Also, under the ruling of the Supreme Court, there are limits to the

constituent power in as much as Parliament cannot alter what have been called the basic features of the Constitution.


  • Conventionally, the terms ‘Legislature’ and ‘Executive’ respectively, connote a body which legislates or makes laws and a body which executes them. But law-making is not the only function of Parliament. Similarly, the term ‘Executive’ is often used rather loosely to connote several different things. Under the Constitution of India, the head of the Executive is the President. All executive power is vested in him and all executive actions are taken in his name.14He is, however, only a Constitutional Head of State acting on the aid and advice of the Council of Ministers and as such only the formal Executive. The real or the political Executive is the Council of’ Ministers.15 Then, there is the permanent administration comprising the civil services-the huge staff of administrators, experts, technocrats and others forming an administrative apparatus which really helps the Ministers in the formulation and implementation of policies. The relationship between the Parliament and the Executive may therefore, cover the relationship of Parliament with the political executive i.e. the Council of Ministers as also the relationship of Parliament with the administration i.e. civil services.


  • The question of relationship between the Executive and the Legislature has been engaging the attention of political thinkers and constitutional theorists alike in Britain as also elsewhere. For instance, there has been much talk of the diminishing role of Parliament and the increased power of the Executive in the British Political system. Critics have sometimes examined current trends and have tried to suggest concrete remedies; they have frequently looked back to an alleged ‘golden age’ when the balance between Legislature and Executive was better maintained. Others have reached the pessimistic conclusion that little can be done to alter the situation.16There are two broad views about the functions of Parliament vis-a-vis the Executive. The first refers to Parliamentary sovereignty, ministerial responsibility, the parliamentary surveillance. The second refers to the responsibility of the Government, the danger of political interference with civil servants, the importance of debate rather than control.17 Halsbury’s Laws of England of posits the Executive Legislative relations as follows:


  • By the doctrine of the Constitution by which supply is granted annually by the House of Commons and must receive legislative sanction each year;
  • By means of the rule by which supply granted to the Crown must be appropriated to the particular purposes for which it has been granted; and
  • By the Doctrine of the Constitution by which a Minister of the Crown is held responsible to Parliament for any act done by him in his ministerial capacity, or by the Ministry or department of which he is the political head or for any advice tendered by the minister to the Sovereign.”


  • To John Stuart Mill, there was a radical distinction between controlling the business of Government and actually doing it. According to him, a numerous assembly is as little fitted for the direct business of legislation as for that of administration. The only task in which a representative assembly can possibly be competent is not that of doing the work, but of causing it to be done; of determining to whom and to what sort of people it shall be confided, and giving or withholding the national sanction to it when performed
  • According to the second view, Parliament is not a corporate entity so much as an arena or forum. In this arena, individual members air grievances and groups of members’ carry on the party struggle. Minister, appear so that members can `have a go’ at them: debates on large issues are staged so that the opposition may present an alternative policy for the benefit of the electors. In other words, this view assigns Parliament a subservient role even though its debates may make newspaper head-lines.
  • The Indian system, however, represents a real fusion of the highest executive and legislative authorities. In terms of the Constitution, as also In actual practice, the relationship between the Executive and the Legislature is one that is most intimate and ideally does not admit of any antagonism or dichotomy. The two are not visualized as competing centres of power but as Inseparable partners or copartner in the business of Government.
  • While the Executive has almost unlimited right to initiate and formulate legislative and financial proposals before Parliament and to give effect to approved policies, unfettered and unhindered by Parliament, Parliament has the unlimited power to call for information, to discuss to scrutinize and to put the seal of approval on the proposals made by the Executive. The Executive (i.e. the political Executive the Council of Ministers) remains responsible and the administration accountable to Parliament.


  • The head of every Government Department is a Minister and Parliament exercises control over the Department through the Minister. A Ministry has practically an autonomous existence of its own and conducts its business in pursuance of statutory provisions, rules and regulations or according to a long-standing practice. The Parliamentary control over the Ministry rests in the fact that any action of the Ministry can be called in question by any Member and the Minister responsible for the administration of that Ministry has to defend the acts of his officials. It is a well-established constitutional principle that a Minister is responsible to Parliament for all the acts of the Ministry and it is he who takes the blame, should Parliament disapprove of any administrative act.


  • Administrative accountability means the accountability of the administration to Parliament. Parliament does not interfere with day to day administration nor does it control administration. Accountability to it is technical and indirect i.e. through the Ministers, and it is ex post factoe. after something is done; after action has ended. Also, it has to be based on specific grounds. Under the Indian system, after a policy is laid down, a law is passed or monies are sanctioned, it is administration which is required to execute and implement, Parliament cannot itself administer nor can the Ministers. It is, therefore, the officials and not the Ministers–who have to explain if things go wrong in the process of implementation.



  • In a parliamentary polity, Parliament embodies the will of the people and it must, therefore be able to oversee the way in which public policy is carried out so as to ensure that it keeps in step with the objectives of socio-economic progress, efficient administration and the aspirations, of the people as a whole. This, in a nutshell, is the rasion d’etreof parliamentary surveillance of administration. Parliament has to keep a watch over the behaviour of administration. It can enquire and examine ex post facto whether the administration has acted in conformity with its obligations under the approved policies and utilized the powers conferred on it for purposes for which they were intended and whether the monies spent were in accordance with parliamentary sanction.


  • The various procedural devices like the system of parliamentary Committees; Questions, Calling Attention, Half-an-Hour Discussion, etc. constitute very potent instruments for effecting parliamentary surveillance over administrative action. Significant occasions for review of administration are also provided by the discussions on the Motion of Thanks on the President’s Address, the Budget demands and particular aspects of governmental policy or situations. These apart, specific matters may be discussed through motions on matters of urgent public importance, private members’ resolutions and other substantive motions. Members are free to express themselves and to say what is good for the country and what modifications are required in the existing policies. Government is sensitive to parliamentary opinion; in most cases it anticipates that opinion; in sonic cases it bows to it and in some others it may feel that it cannot make any change consistent with its commitments, obligations arid political philosophy.



  • Executive or Ministerial responsibility to Parliament or what is often termed parliamentary control over the Executive or the Government is based on-

the constitutional provision of collective responsibility of the Council of Ministers to the popular House of Parliament; and the Parliament’s control over the Budget.In both these matters, parliamentary control over the Executive is political in nature. The answerability of the Executive is direct, continuous, concurrent and day-to-day. When Parliament is sitting, the continuance of the Government in office depends from moment to moment on its retaining the confidence of the House of the People. The House may at any time decide to throw out the Government by a majority vote i.e. if the ruling party loses the support of the majority of the members of the House, its Government goes. No grounds, arguments, proofs or justification are necessary, 27 when the House clearly shows that it does not support the Government of the day, the Government must resign.28 Want of parliamentary confidence in the Government may be expressed by the House of the People by-

  • passing a substantive motion of no-confidence in
  • the Council of Ministers;
  • defeating the Government on a major issue of policy;
    • passing an adjournment motion; and
    • refusing to vote supplies or defeating the Government on a financial measure.
    • The Executive enjoys the right to formulate the Budget. The Constitution provides for an annual statement of the estimated receipts and expenditure to be placed before Parliament. The Executive is completely free to suggest what the level of its expenditure should be and specify the purposes for which various amounts may be acquired. It has also full freedom to suggest how revenue should be raised to meet the expenditure. Thus the entire initiative in financial matters is with the Government. Nevertheless, parliamentary control over public finance–the power to levy or modify taxes and the voting of supplies and grants is one of the most important checks against the Executive assuming arbitrary powers. No taxes can be legally levied and no expenditure incurred from the public exchequer without specific parliamentary authorization by law.


  • In a Parliamentary form of Government, such as we have, the function of Parliament is to legislate, advise, criticise, and ventilate the public grievances; and that of the Executive, to govern. A country requires laws for the maintenance of public order, for facilitating economic arid social process, and for ensuring a sound and efficient administration. The Executive for the most part proposes the legislation necessary for the imprimatur, after due deliberation and debate and suggesting modifications, whenever necessary. Control over finance, the power to levy or modify taxes, the Voting of supplies and grants, and ventilating people’s grievances are the exclusive prerogatives of Parliament. It is through these powers that Parliament enforces the responsibility of the Executive to itself and to the people in the ultimate analysis.


  • Under the Constitution of India, the relationship between the Executive and the Parliament is based on mutual trust and confidence. An unwritten code subsists between the two: Parliament does not interfere with the Executive in the day-to-day administration and the Executive pays a heavy price for it by staking its life every day for what it does or does not do. Parliament has almost unlimited right of information and criticism ex post factoand the Executive has likewise unlimited right to initiate and formulate proposals and policies arid to give effect to the approved policies, unfettered and unhindered. In essence, Parliament must respect the Executive and the Executive must feet parliamentary influence all the time. So long as this equilibrium is maintained, there is every reason to believe that the government of the country will be carried on in accordance with the wishes of the people. The success of our system lies in our having in fact this happy balance and blending.
  • Nonetheless, there is scope for increasing the influence and strengthening the control of Parliament over the Executive. One of the proposals which is debated and canvassed is the use of the existing Committees on an increasing scale and extending the Committee System of Parliament. It is suggested that these are needed to oversee administration, to scrutinise the actions of Government, to collect, discuss and report, on actions and performance of Departments of Government.
  • With a view to further strengthening the Committee System, the two Houses of Parliament gave unanimous approval on 29th Match, 1993, for the setting up of 17 Department-related Standing Committees.* These new Committees have replaced the three subject-based Committees set up In 1989 and encompass for scrutiny purpose within their ambit all Ministries and Departments of the Government. These Committees are entrusted with the following functions:
  • to consider the Demands for Grants of the related Ministries/ Departments and report thereon. The report shall not suggest anything of the nature of cut motions;
  • to examine Bills, pertaining to the related Ministries/Departments referred to the Committee by the Chairman or the Speaker, as the case may be and report thereon;
  • to consider the annual reports of the Ministries/Departments and report thereon; and


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