Difference between Ministry and Departments of Government of India
In the general administrative machinery there is much difference between a Department and a Ministry. A Ministry is under the direct control of a minister and a Department is always guided and controlled by a secretary.
A department is a stable unit of administrative whereas, the Ministry may be subjected to frequent changes and may even extinguish. Again a new ministry may be formed. Generally a department is a permanent and unchanging or unchangeable units. However, it may be expanded and sometime even may be transformed as a ministry.
The terms Ministry is somewhat ambiguous. After independence of the country in 1947, the term ministry was taken to denote a department instead of the term department, but nothing was stated clearly about its structure. A ministry may have some departments or may not have them. Sometimes even there are many departments within a ministry. However, term ministry collectively denotes a political meaning.
Again in a department there may be number of secretaries. Though they all get equal salary yet are not equal in their status or dignity. In a ministry however, there may be two or more secretaries, each having the responsibility on one or more part: the responsibilities of a whole ministry however, remains on one secretary only. For example the defence ministry has three departments and for each there is a secretary – viz., the defence secretary, the secretary for the department of defence materials and the secretary for the department of defence supply. They are all getting equal salary but the dignity and status of the defence secretary is far above the other two. Likewise, the foreign affairs ministry also has three secretaries, but the post of the secretary of the foreign affairs is much more important than the other two secretaries. The secretariat is that collective shape of the ministry or the department wherein the ministers are the political heads but the secretaries are the administrative heads.
It should also be remembered that all the ministries or departments of the government are not equally powerful and significant. In the past it was the Home Ministry which was very powerful. During the British regime each of the departments had three tiers – the secretary, the deputy secretary and the assistant secretary. But as the works of the departments became voluminous as well as complete the extra posts of joint secretary or additional secretary were created. Records show that till 1946 there were 25 joint secretaries and 5 additional secretaries only. But after independence the number increased enormously in view of the increase in the volume and complexities of work.
As has been said earlier the ministries do no have equal number of departments. There are several ministries such as Home, Human Resource Development, Finance, Civil, Aviation, Power, Railways, Agriculture, Corporate affairs, Commerce and Industry, Defence, Finance, Law and Justice, Minority Affairs, Science and Technology, Coal, Food and Supply, Labour, Mining, Communication, Electricity, Health and Family Planning, etc. Each of these ministries have one or more departments under them. Some of the ministries like Railway, Home or Finance are quite big in size and hence they have a number of regional departments.
Again while some of the ministries enjoy great importance, some others are not so significant. However, a ministry under a cabinet minister is always of great importance than a ministry under a minister of state or deputy minister.