Cabinet Secretary

Cabinet Secretary is the pivot of the Cabinet system. The Cabinet Secretariat functions under the leadership of the Prime Minister ( political head) and its administrative head is the Cabinet Secretary. He is the senior most officers of the Indian Administrative Service.



Generally, the qualifications required for the office of Cabinet Secretary are:

  1. He should be an administrative officer of highest rank.
  2. He should be a person with special qualities like tact, energy, initiative and efficiency.
  3. He should be a person commanding the respect and confidence of all ranks of the permanent services.

In India, a person is appointed to this post only at the end of his service career. The method of appointment is in sharp contrast with that in Britain where his selection is based on merit. But in certain cases in India, favoritism has been practiced in the appointments of Cabinet Secretaries between 1991 and 1996.



As regards the tenure of the Cabinet Secretary, it has remained a short one as compared to that of his British counterparts. In India, generally, the rule of seniority is followed, with the result that the Cabinet Secretary is appointed a year or two before his impending retirement. In Britain, the Cabinet Secretary is appointed to the post several years before he is due to retire. Hence, whereas in Britain, the Cabinet Secretary holds office for ten years or more, the average tenure in India has been a couple of years. The First Administrative Reforms Commission had suggested three-to-four years tenure for the Cabinet Secretary.



Although the chief function of the Cabinet Secretary is to provide assistance to the Council of Ministers, he performs certain other functions such as:

  1. He deals primarily with Cabinet affairs. He attends every meeting of the Cabinet and Cabinet Committees. He draws up the minutes which contain the decisions reached. After the Prime Minister’s approval, these are circulated by him to the concerned Ministers and Secretaries. He has to follow the code of maintaining secrecy. He also ensures that the decisions are implemented properly.
  2. He keeps contact with the Secretaries in charge of the different Ministries.
  3. He keeps an eye upon the smooth working of the system of communication and consultation among the Ministries and departments of the Central Government.
  4. He is an adviser and conscience-keeper to all the permanent officials. They seek his advice and guidance whenever there are interdepartmental difficulties.
  5. Cabinet Secretary ensures that the morale of the civil servants remains high. He is the head of the Civil Service Board of the Government of India. He acts as a buffer between the politicians and the civil servants as well as protects the interests of the civil servants in situations of the conflict between the two.
  6. Cabinet Secretary has to act on his discretion when a Minister desires to have prosecution launched against the publisher or editor of a newspaper. The law prescribes that the sanction of the Cabinet Secretary shall be obtained before the prosecution can be launched. The sanction for the prosecution depends on the personal judgement of the Cabinet Secretary. The decision of Cabinet Secretary is final and no appeal can be made against his decision.
  7. The Cabinet Secretary has a special role vis-à-vis the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister is in direct charge of the Cabinet Secretariat and hence Cabinet Secretary is responsible to him. The Cabinet Secretary advice the Prime Minister on whatever matter that is brought before the Cabinet Secretariat. He also provides advice to the Prime Minister on classification portfolios, their grouping and allocation of particular portfolios among the Ministers. He advice the Prime Minister not only on Cabinet meetings and Cabinet Committees over which he presides but also on the general running of the Government as far as the policy matters are concerned. While tendering the advice, he consults other Secretaries. There exists a Committee of Secretaries on Administration which is headed by Cabinet Secretary. Through the Committees of Secretaries, Cabinet Secretary can get information from any State on any matter and pass on to the Prime Minister. The Cabinet Secretary is the Chairman of Committee of Secretaries and Chief Secretaries’Committee.

He provides an element of stability and continuity when a Prime Minister resigns or dies. At such times, he advice the President, the care-taker Prime Minister along with his Cabinet and the new Prime Minister along with his Cabinet and provides assistance. It is during this period that the role of Cabinet Secretary is of immense value. Prime Minister may ask the Cabinet Secretary to serve as an official factotum when he deems necessary. In these cases, he becomes an alter ego of the Prime Minister.

The Cabinet Secretary helps the Prime Minister in his relations with the Ministers. Cabinet Secretary’s role vis-à-vis the Prime Minister is one of official adviser. The Cabinet Secretary provides the eyes and ears for the Prime Minister to keep in touch with the process of official business in the Central Government. He is the permanent Secretary and chief adviser to the Prime Minister.

The above mentioned are the functions and responsibilities which a Cabinet Secretary must perform. Following are those which Cabinet Secretary must not do:

  1. He does not have a supervisory function over any of the Ministries or departments.
  2. He should not interfere in the working of the departments.
  3. He does not have administrative authority in relation to administrative Ministries.
  4. He is not an invigilator or watch dog on behalf of the Prime Minister.
  5. His business is to help and not to oversee.
  6. He should not involve himself in matters which have political implications.
  7. He must not indulge in party politics.



The Commission suggested following recommendations:

  1. The role of the Cabinet Secretary should not be limited to that of a coordinator. He should also act as the principal staff adviser of the Prime Minister, the Cabinet and the Cabinet Committees on important policy matters.
  2. The Cabinet Secretary should ordinarily have tenure of three to four years.



The Cabinet Secretariat in India is an innovation in the central administration which has emulated from the British experience. Its fortunes have changed with the fluctuations of the political executive, particularly, the outlook of the Prime Minister. The efficiency of the Cabinet depends to a large extent on the Cabinet Secretariat.Greater flexibility in the policy-making mechanism at the Central and State levels is a requisite for successful governance in India. Thus, the smooth functioning of the Cabinet Secretariat is highly essential for the Government of India.



1.“The respective roles of the Cabinet Secretary of the Government of India and of the Chief Secretary of a State are similar in certain respects, and dissimilar in other.” Explain.(2009)

2.“The Cabinet Secretariat provides the eyes and ears for the Prime Minister to keep in touch with the process of official business in Central Government.” Comment.(2005)

3.“The leadership qualities of a civil servant are tested most during his tenure as the Cabinet Secretary – a dream post – for every bureaucrat.” Elucidate.(2000)

4.“The efficiency of the Cabinet depends to a large extent on the Cabinet Secretariat.” Elucidate.(1997)

5.“The cabinet secretariat in India as an innovation in the central administration has been emulated from the British experience. Its fortunes have changed with the vicissitudes of the Prime Minister.” Review the working of the Cabinet Secretariat since its inception in the light of the above statement.(1990)

6.“Cabinet Secretariat and the Prime Minister’s Secretariat in India have Common but dissimilar staff functions.” Elucidate.(1988).


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