PMO & Cabinet Secretariat: Function & Role in Indian Governance

PMO is one of the youngest organization of Union Government, but has tended to emerge as tallest at different points of times”

PMO as the Pillar of Leadership in Indian Governance

Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) is a staffing agency assisting the Prime Minister in the efficient discharge of his role, functions, and responsibilities. It is mainly concerned with providing assistance in decision making at the top level of the government of India.  

Evolution and Impact of the PMO in Indian Leadership

  • PMO was originally set up as the Prime Minister’s Secretariat (PMS) in 1947. 
  • PMS changed to the Prime Minister Office (PMO) in 1977.
  • Leadership of the PMO: The PMO is headed by the Principal Secretary (Currently Pramod Kumar Mishra).
  • Elevation to Departmental Status: It got the status of department under Allocation of Business rules 1961. 
  • Structure and Composition of PMO: PMO consists of the immediate staff of the PM of India, as well as multiple levels of support staff reporting to the PM.
  • PMO Strength and Influence: PMO being closer to the Prime Minister, today PMO is stronger than the Cabinet Secretariat. 
    • The Principal Secretary is near to the PM. 
    • Terms and conditions of the Principal Secretary are set by the PM.
    • Despite its importance, it is accorded an extra-constitutional body.

Composition of PMO: Key Players in Government Decision-Making

  • Politically headed by the Prime Minister.
  • PMO Administratively headed by Principal Secretary (Usually senior retired IAS)
  • One or two additional secretaries.
  • 5 joint secretaries
  • National Security Advisor (NSA)
  • A number of directors/ deputy secretaries and under secretaries

Figure: Organization Structure of PMO   

Functions of the PMO in Indian Governance (According to Allocation of business Rules 1961): Supporting the Prime Minister’s Leadership

  • Secretariat’s Main Function: The main task of the secretariat is to help the Prime Minister in the performance of his functions as the head of the government
  • Secretariat’s Role in Official Liaison: Assisting PM in maintaining, on the official side, liaison with union ministers, the president, governors, chief ministers, representatives of foreign governments in India and others.
  • Public Interface: Handling various requests or complaints from members of the public addressed to the Prime Minister from the public side.
  • Secretariat’s Broad Jurisdiction: The jurisdiction of the Secretariat may be said to extend over all such subjects and activities which are not specially allocated to any individual ministry department

Other Functions: Strategic and Operational Dimensions of the PMO in India

  • Dual Role: Provides secretarial assistance to the PM and acts as a think tank.
  • Handling of References: It deals with all references which under the Rules of Business comes to the PM.
  • Support in CEO Role: Helps the PM in discharge of his overall responsibilities as CEO and as head of NITI Aayog.
  • Public Relations Oversight: Looking after the public relations of the prime minister like contact with the press and general public.
  • Settlement Facilitation: Provide Prime Ministerial assistance in examination of cases submitted to him for orders under prescribed rules so it acts as settlement house to finalize decisions concerning administrative doubts.
  • Operational Oversight: The Prime Minister’s National Relief Fund (PMNRF) and the National Defence Fund (NDF) are operated directly from the PMO
  • However, PMO is not responsible for functions  devolving on the Prime Minister in his capacity as the head of the cabinet, except to the extent to which matters are handled in personal correspondence between him and individual ministers, 
    • It also do not involve in handling correspondence either relating to party policies or of a domestic nature

The Cabinet Secretariat’s Path from 1861 to India’s Constitutional Recognition

  • Historical Perspective: Catalyst for Governance Change
    • The Evolution of the Executive Council: Governor-General-in Council (earlier name of Cabinet Secretariat) 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. 
    • Evolution of the Cabinet Secretariat: The Executive Council’s Secretariat was then designated as the Cabinet Secretariat by the Constitution of the Interim Government in September 1946.
      • Consequently, the Secretary of the Executive Council of the Viceroy was renamed as the Cabinet Secretary. 
  • Definition of Cabinet: Art. 352 defines the term “Cabinet” as the Council consisting of the Prime Minister and other Ministers of Cabinet rank under Art. 75.

Crucial Roles of the Cabinet Secretariat in Governance and Decision-Making

  • The Cabinet Secretariat functions directly under the Prime Minister.
  • Cabinet Secretary’s Key Roles: The administrative head of the Secretariat is the Cabinet Secretary who is also the ex-officio Chairman of the Civil Services Board,  the Indian Administrative Service (IAS) and head of all civil services under the rules of business of the Government.
  • Mandate of the Cabinet Secretariat: 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.
  • Role in Administering Government of India: 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  facilitating smooth transaction of business in Ministries/ Departments.
  • Facilitating Coordination and Decision Making: The Secretariat assists in decision-making in Government by ensuring Inter-Ministerial coordination
    • It resolves differences amongst Ministries/Departments and cultivates consensus through the instrumentality of the standing/ad hoc Committees of Secretaries.
  • Secretary Assistance: Cabinet Secretariat is the PMO which provides secretarial assistance to the Cabinet .
  • Agenda Preparation and Record-Keeping: Preparation and circulation of the agenda and 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.
  • Management of major crisis situations in the country.
  • Approval for Senior-Level Appointments: All senior level appointments (including Cabinet Secretary) are done with the approval of the Appointments Committee of the Cabinet (headed by the Prime Minister).

Exploration of Wings and Units in India’s Cabinet Secretariat

  • Civil Wing: Providing assistance to cabinet and cabinet committees.
  • Military Wing: Providing assistance to the National Defence Council and other bodies dealing with defence.
  • Intelligence Wing: Research and Analysis Wing (RAW), 1967 sits in Cabinet Secretariat.
  • Directorate of public grievances
  • Cabinet Secretary
  • National Authority for Chemical Weapons Convention 
  • Performance Management Division (Group) – Manages Performance Management and Evaluation System (PMES)
  • The Office of Principal Scientific Adviser has been placed administratively under the Cabinet Secretariat in August, 2018.

Strategic Leadership of PMO and Cabinet Secretary in Indian Governance

  • Officially principal advisor to the PM
Reporting Structure
  • Under the direct charge of the PM
First Cabinet Secretary
  • N. R. Pillai
Present Cabinet Secretary
  • Rajiv Gauba (IAS)
  • Ranks 11th in order of precedence
  • No fixed tenure; extendable, with a minimum 2-year mandate (expandable up to 4 years)
  • Tenure can go beyond the age of retirement
Organization Head
  • Heads the Cabinet Secretariat
Oversight Role
  • Acts as the conscience keeper of civil services.
Conference of Chief Secretaries
  • Presides over and guides the Conference of Chief Secretaries
Civil Services Board Chairperson
  • Acts as the chairperson of the Civil Services Board, making recommendations for joint secretary appointments in the Cabinet Secretariat
Intermediary Role
  • Acts as a buffer and bridge between the political executive and permanent executive

Central Secretariat’s dual role in Policy Formulation and Implementation at the Heart of India

  • The Government of India works on a split system i.e. policy making and policy implementation.
  • Central Secretariat – At Central level
  • State Secretariat – At State level
  • Cabinet Secretariat is not a part of any ministry, so not part of the central secretariat. 
  • Secretariat is a policy making organ whereas Directorate acts as implementing agency.
  • There are three Services in the Central Secretariat, which provide support and continuity of the governmental system in the Central Government Secretariat.
    1. Central Secretariat Service (CSS)
    2. Central Secretariat Stenographers Service(CSSS)
    3. Central Secretariat Clerical Service (CSCS)

Functions of Central Secretariat: Policy, Administration, and Legislation

Administrative role
  • Policy making role.
  • The Secretariat provides continuity and consistency in decision making and administration.
  • It is the principal channel of communication with the state and other important bodies.
  • It acts as an institutionalized memory of GoI.
  • Acts as clearing house of policy proposals and government decisions
Legislative role
  • It frames draft legislation/ bills.
  • Preparing response to parliamentary questions.
  • Preparation, execution and control of budget.
  • General supervision over implementation.

Previous Year Question (Prelims)

Q. Which of the following is/are the function/functions of the Cabinet Secretariat? [2014]

  1. Preparation of agenda for Cabinet Meetings
  2. Secretariat 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. Under the administration of which one of the following is the Department of Atomic Energy? (2009)

  1. Prime Minister’s Office
  2. Cabinet Secretariat
  3. Ministry of Power
  4. Ministry of Science and Technology

Q. With reference to Union Government, consider the following statements (2009)

  1. The Constitution of India provides that all Cabinet Ministers shall be compulsorily the sitting members of Lok Sabha only.
  2. The Union Cabinet Secretariat operates under the direction of the Ministry of Parliamentary Affairs.

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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