Rules of Business

Rules of Business are framed by the competent authorities for the purpose of allocating as well as transacting government business. The concept and practice of rules of business in effect evolved during the British rule in India. Basically two aspects of decision making in administration have been evolved over the years: first, the manner and procedure of disposal of business of the government; second, the sharing of responsibilities or subjects by different ministries/divisions. Precisely, the rules of business constitute the procedures of transaction of business of the government and allocation of functions among various ministries/divisions.

Since the enactment of the Charter Act of 1833 and until the move towards representative government culminating in the Government of India Act of 1935, the rules of business underwent various changes. In those days the rules for the conduct of business in the executive council were formulated through resolutions adopted in the council meetings. With the enactment of the Government of India Act of 1935, such rules came to acquire a constitutional or legal source of authority. Thus, section 59 of the Act authorised the Governor of Bengal to make rules for transaction of the business of the government. The rules laid down procedures for organisation of departments, transmission of information and submission of cases to the governor, including procedures of inter-departmental consultations, meetings of council of ministers, disclosure of information, and so on. These rules were issued again on 30 May 1946 with minor modifications.

After the partition of India new rules of business modeled almost on what had been in existence prior to 1947 were framed in Pakistan under the constitution of 1956. Under the constitution adopted in 1962, new rules of business were then framed under article 81 of the constitution which were revised from time to time. In Bangladesh, the rules of business were first published on 1 November 1975. The rules were then designed for a presidential system of government, under which there was a council of ministers appointed by the president. The assigned duty of each of the ministers was to aid and advise the President; the latter also could get things done by officers subordinate to him.

After the elections of 1991 the country adopted a parliamentary form of government which necessitated a revision of the existing rules of business, although the basic structure and contents of the revised rules remained much the same. By a notification issued on 18 November 1991, the government decided that all cases requiring approval of the President under the presidential system would henceforth be submitted to the President through the prime minister.

However, with the change of government through the elections held in 1996, a new set of rules was issued on 19 October 1996. The basic structure and contents of the rules remained the same, although three major amendments were incorporated in them. First, in all previous rules, the secretary of a ministry or division was designated as its official head but under the rules issued in October 1996, the word 'official' was substituted by the word 'administrative'. The new rules further deleted the earlier requirement that the secretary should discharge his duties under the supervision of the minister. Second, decentralised personnel management system stipulated under the earlier rules, limiting the role of the ministry of establishment, was dispensed with. Third, the provision of non-party caretaker government was incorporated specifying that during the period when such government was in office, all references to the prime minister and ministers shall be construed as references to the chief adviser and advisers respectively.

The rules of business of 1996 contains five chapters and seven schedules, except Schedule I published separately which deals with allocation of functions or subjects among different ministries/divisions. Chapter I deals with definitions of various terms, allocation of business, the manner of transaction of business and the procedure for signing orders, instruments, arrangements and contracts. Chapter II deals with references to the President directly, and those to the Prime Minister and the President, as well as the references to the Prime Minister alone including the manner of submission of cases to the President and the Prime Minister. Chapter III provides the procedure for inter-ministerial consultations, and also the manner of mandatory consultations by ministries in certain subjects with the cabinet division and the ministries of establishment, finance, law, and foreign affairs. Chapter IV lays down the procedure for the cabinet meetings, specifying the cases to be brought before the cabinet, method of disposal of cases by the cabinet, committees of the cabinet, manner of submission of cases to the cabinet, meetings of the cabinet committees, action on cabinet decisions, custody of cabinet papers, periodical reports on activities of ministries/divisions and so on. Chapter V deals with such miscellaneous provisions as protection and communication of official information, channels of communication with foreign governments or agencies and correspondence from and with defense headquarters. It authorises the Prime Minister to condone or permit departure from the observance of the rules in specific cases or classes of cases to the extent she/he deems necessary.

During the tenure of non-party caretaker government (2007-08), a new rule was added to the rules of business. Under the new rule, the chief adviser was empowered to appoint special assistants. This was done to lesson the pressure of work of ten advisers who could be appointed under the constitution.

Allocation of business Schedule I attached to the rules of business specifying allocation of duties among the various ministries and divisions has been issued under provision made in article 55(6) of the Constitution. More specifically, this constitutional provision in effect authorises the President to make rules for the allocation and transaction of the business of the government. It is on the strength of this provision that rules of business are formulated. Schedule I, titled as 'Allocation of Business Among Ministries and Divisions' of the rules of business is published separately by the cabinet division pursuant to rule 3(ii) of the rules of business.

Schedule I of the rules of business provides for the distribution of subjects to each and every ministry and division. Each ministry/division is required to confine their activities within areas or subjects that are allocated under Schedule I. This arrangement is made for avoidance of duplication and overlaps of the functions of different ministries/divisions. However, in appropriate cases, ministries/divisions hold inter-ministerial consultations to arrive at a decision. In some cases such consultations are mandatory in terms of the provision of the rules of business. [AMM Shawkat Ali]

Bibliography Rules of Business (1996) as amended.