CENTRAL SECRETARIAT

The Constitution does not mention the word ‘Secretariat.’ Article 77 (3) lays down that the President shall make rules for the more convenient transaction of the business of the government of India and for the allocation among Ministers of the said business. 

To run the business of the government the Secretariat is required. The main function of the Secretariat is to advise the Minister in matters of policy and administration. The affairs of the State and particularly the dealings between the Secretary and the Minister are confidential in nature, therefore, the functions of the Government appears to have become synonymous with secrecy. Thus, probably for this reason the term, ‘Secretariat’ is derived from the world ‘Secret’.

The Ministers cannot work all alone and need assistance, therefore, for administrative purposes, the government of India is divided into ministries and departments which together constitute the “Central Secretariat”. Thus, the term central Secretariat is used to denote the sum total of the Secretariat staff of all the Departments/Ministries.

To implement the policies made by the ministers in consultation with the Secretariat there are attached offices, subordinate offices and other field agencies.

A typical ministry of the Central government is a two-tier structure comprising 

  1. The political head, that is the cabinet minister assisted by minister(s) of state, deputy minister(s) and parliamentary secretary, if any; and 
  2. The secretariat organization of the ministry with the secretary, who is a permanent official, as the administrative head. 

Besides, there are executive organizations under the heads of departments who function with the help of attached and subordinate offices and field agencies.

 

EVOLUTION OF THE CENTRAL SECRETARIAT IN INDIA

The Secretariat in India in the beginning was the office of the Governor-General. The original role of the Secretariat was described as, “the Central Secretariat at Fort William in Bengal was designed to furnish the requisite information for the formulation of policy and to carry out the orders of the Company’s Government. 

  1. The Regulatory Act of 1773 for the first time created the ‘Supreme Government’, having controlling authority over the ‘Presidency Government’. It-consisted of a Governor-General and four councillors in whom all the powers of controlling and military of India vested. This system continued throughout the British rule. With the expansion of Company’s rule, it took a number of governmental functions and role of Secretariat expanded along with its size.
  2. Lord Cornwallis took some steps to organise and strengthen the Secretariat. He created the office of the Secretary-General in whom all powers and responsibilities concentrated. He later came to be known as Chief Secretary. 
  3. Lord Wellesley also took a keen interest in re-organizing the Secretariat, and his reform works in the Secretariat increased considerably in bulk and responsibility both. He raised the status of the Secretary to Government. He did this by raising their salaries and augmenting their responsibilities. The functions of Secretaries were extended to research and planning in addition to their ordinary routine business of execution.
  4. The Montague-Chelmsford Reforms of 1919 brought about a significant change in the system of administration. The reforms introduced division of functions between the Centre and the Provincial governments and over a large part of the field, the provinces became virtually autonomous. Only subjects like the Army, Post and telegraph and Railways were directly administered by the Central Government. In consequence, the role of the Secretariat began to change from a merely policy formulating, supervising and coordinating agency to that of an executive agency as well. 

FUNCTIONS OF THE SECRETARIAT

The functioning of the Secretariat in our country has been based on two principles. 

  1. The principle of separation of policy from its implementation-the administration in action, so that the latter can be handed over to a separate agency which enjoys certain freedom in the field of execution. 
  2. A transitory cadre of officers drawn from States Cadres, operating on the tenure system of staff controlling a permanent staff is a pre-requisite to the vitality of the administrative system as a whole. In such a situation of dual functioning it is the policy making functions which are likely to suffer most. Routine business is always more urgent and calls for less intellectual efforts than the policy making functions. Therefore, it is only by the creation of a separate policy department general staff, freed from the administration as a whole that it is possible to secure for thoughtful and effective planning. This system is known as split system.

Advantages of Split System

Many advantages have been claimed in favour of the Indian system of separation of functions. 

  1. Freedom from day to day problems of execution provides opportunity to the policy makers to do the necessary for forward planning. 
  2. The Secretariat acts as the dispassionate adviser to the Minister. It has no interest in any proposal. The proposals coming from the executive agencies are examined in an objective way from the larger point of view of the Government as a whole. That is why the Secretary in the Secretariat is the Secretary not to his Minister, but to the Government on the whole. 
  3. The separation keeps the Secretariat’s size smaller. 
  4. This system also avoids over-centralisation. The executive agencies have to be given reasonable amount of freedom in the implementation of the policies and in the functions given to them. If the field functions were to be administered from the Secretariat it would have created lot of centralisation and delay in disposal of work.

Functions

In common terms, it can be said that the Central Secretariat is a collection of various ministries and departments. It is through this body that the Union government operates. It is the nodal agency for administering the Union subjects and establishing coordination among the various activities of the government. 

The functions of the Secretariat are as follows:

  1. The Secretariat assists the ministers in the formulation of governmental policies. In this sphere, it performs the following functions:
    • Making and modifying policies from time to time;
    • Drafting bills, rules and regulations;
    • Undertaking sectoral planning and programme formulation;
    • Budgeting, and controlling expenditure according to administrative and financial approval of operational plans and programmes and their subsequent modifications;
    • Exercising supervision and control over the execution of policies and programmes by field agencies and evaluating their performance.
    • Coordinating and interpreting policies; assisting other branches of the government and maintaining contacts with state administration;
    • Initiating measures to develop greater organizational competence, and
    • Discharging their responsibilities towards the Parliament.
  1. The Secretariat is a think-tank and virtual treasure-house of vital information which enables the government to examine its future policies and present activities in the light of past precedents. Nothing is lost to history and, time and again, it provides material for ready reference.
  2. Before taking any action, the Secretariat carries out a comprehensive and detailed scrutiny of the issue, often taking the help of other ministries such as the Ministry of Law and the Ministry of Finance. An issue is thus discussed threadbare before it reaches the minister concerned.
  3. In the Indian system, a rigid demarcation does not exist between the secretariat and field functions. The officers of the secretariat are transferred to the field and vice-versa. Thus, the Secretariat ensures that the field officers execute with efficiency and economy the policies and decisions of the government.
  4. Lastly, it functions as the main channel of communication between the states or agencies such as the Planning Commission and the Finance Commission.

The Central Secretariat thus occupies an apex position. The ARC commented in this regard as follows:

“The Secretariat system of work has lent balance, consistency and continuity to the administration and serves as a nucleus for the total machinery of a ministry. It has facilitated inter-ministry coordination and accountability to Parliament at the ministerial level. As an institutionalized system, it is indispensable for the proper functioning of the government.”

 

CRITICISM OF THE SECRETARIAT

Central Secretariat: Structure

The Central Secretariat is a collection of various ministries and departments. A ministry is responsible for the formulation of the policy of government within its sphere of responsibility as well as for the execution and review of that policy. A ministry, for the purposes of internal organisation, is divided into the following sub-groups with an officer in charge of each of them:

  • Department : Secretary/Additional/Secretary/Special Secretary
  • Wing : Joint/Additional Secretary
  • Division : Deputy Secretary
  • Branch : Under Secretary

 The need of the secretariat has not been questioned by its critics rather they favour the Secretariat to provide the necessary assistance to the Minister in policy making. Its working methods in actual practice have been criticised on many grounds. 

The points, of criticism are: 

  • The Secretariat is a policy making body, but, it has started taking a number of field functions also. This is not good for administrative efficiency. In such a situation either the Secretariat does not get time to concentrate on policy making or the power and authority of field’ agencies is weakened
  • The Secretariat tends to indulge in empire building. The various ministries and departments tend to undertake functions which are unrelated to their activity and this often leads to unnecessary expenditure. 
  • The Secretariat has become an overgrown institution and over staffing is clearly visible. To justify overstaffing the Secretariat tends to engage in unnecessary work. 
  • The Secretariat has rules and procedures to be followed and the result is delay in decisions. The other reasons for delayed decisions are lack of adequate delegation to the field units; cumbersome procedures and unnecessary number of levels through which it has to pass before decision making
  • Coordination ‘has now become a real problem due to the proliferation of the departments in the Secretariat. The process of consultations among different Ministries/Departments take lot of time. They act as separate empires and do not take an overall view of the problems involved.

The above points of criticism depict the realities of shortcomings in the Secretariat. 

To overcome these weaknesses it would be desirable not to involve more than two levels below the authority involved in taking decisions. To avoid delay and cumbersome procedure sufficient powers should be delegated at the appropriate level.

 

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