Executive: Definition, Functions and Types of Executive (2023)


Executive: Definition, Functions and Types of Executive!

The second but most powerful organ of the government is the Executive. It is that organ which implements the laws passed by the legislature and the policies of the government. The rise of welfare state has tremendously increased the functions of the state, and in reality of the executive. In common usage people tend to identify the executive with the government. In contemporary times, there has taken place a big increase in the power and role of the executive in every state.

What is Executive?


The term ‘Executive’ has been defined both in its broad and narrow forms. In its broad form, it is taken to mean all the functionaries, political power-holders (Political Executive) and permanent civil servants who undertake the execution of laws and policies and run the administration of state.

In its narrow form, it is taken to mean only the executive heads (ministers i.e. the political Executive), who head the government departments, formulate the policies and supervise the implementation of the laws and policies of the government. In the narrow form, the civil service and its administrative functions are not included in the realm of the Executive.

Traditionally, only the narrow meaning used to be accepted by the political scientists. However, in modern times, the executive is defined in its broader form and it covers both the Political Executive as well as the Civil Service.

Executive: Definition:

(1) “In a broad and collective sense, the executive organ embraces the aggregate or totality of all the functionaries and agencies which are concerned with the execution of the will of the state as that will has been formulated and expressed in terms of law.” Garner


(2) “In its broadest sense, the executive department consists of all government officials except those acting in legislative or judicial capacity. It includes all the agencies of government that are concerned with the execution of states will as expressed in terms of law.” Gettell

These two definitions make it clear that executive includes the political executive (Ministers and Head of State) and the non-political permanent executive (Civil Service or Bureaucracy). The political executive performs the function of making policies and ensuring that all the laws are properly enforced by all the departments of the government.

The permanent executive i.e. bureaucracy/civil service runs the day-to- day administration and works in government departments. It works under the supervision and control of the political executive.

Two Parts of Executive: Political Executive & Permanent Executive: Distinction:


(i) The Political Executive (Ministers):

It consists of the executive head of the state and other heads of the executive departments is ministers. Ministers are political leaders. They are mostly elected representative of the people and responsible for all their decisions and policies before the public. Political Executive work for a fixed tenure of about 5 years.

It acts as a temporary executive in the sense that it changes after every election. After completing one tenure, ministers have to again contest elections. They can again become ministers only when the party to which they belong returns to power as the majority party.

The ministers are amateurs, non-experts and non-professionals. Their function is to formulate policies and get these policies and laws approved from the Legislature. Thereafter these policies and laws of the State are implemented by the civil servants, who work under the control of Political Executive. The political executive heads the government. Each minister is head of a department or some of the government.


(ii) The Non-political Permanent Executive (Civil Servants):

It consists of the civil servants (Bureaucracy) from the lowest to the highest levels. It carries out the day to day administration by working in the government departments. The civil servants are politically neutral. They do not owe allegiance to any political party.

Their job is to carry out the laws and policies of the government without any political consideration. They are specially educated and trained persons. They are experts and professionals. They give expert advice and opinion as well as collect, classify and present data to the political executive on the basis of which the latter takes all decisions.

Once appointed, the civil servants remain in office till the attainment of the retirement age, usually up to the age of 55 or 60 years. They get regular and fixed salaries and are hierarchically organised into higher and lower relationships.

Functions of the Executive:

1. Enforcement of Laws:


The primary function of executive is to enforce laws and to maintain law and order in the state. Whenever a breach of law takes place, it is the responsibility of the executive to plug the breach and bring the offenders to book. Each government department is responsible for the implementation of the laws and policies concerning its work. For maintaining law and order in the state, the executive organises and maintains the police force.

2. Appointment-making Functions:

All major appointments are made by the chief executive. As for example, the President of India appoints the Chief Justice and other Judges of the Supreme Court and High Courts. Ambassadors, Advocate General of India, Members of Union Public Service Commission, Governors of States etc.


Likewise, the President of the United States makes a very large number of key appointments. All the secretaries who head various government departments, Judges of the Supreme Court and other Federal Courts, the Federal officials in the States etc., are appointed by the US President. However, all such appointments require the approval of the US Senate (Upper House US Congress i.e. Parliament).

The members of the civil service are also appointed by the Chief executive. This is, usually, done on the recommendation of a service recruitment commission. In India, the Union Public Service Commission annually holds competitive examinations for All India Services, Central Services and Allied Services.

It recruits on merit, candidates for appointment to these cadres. The appointments are done by the Chief executive in accordance with the recommendations of the UPSC. Similar practice prevails in almost all the states. As such appointment-making is a function of the executive.

3. Treaty-making Functions:


It is the responsibility of the executive to decide as to which treaties are to be signed with which other countries. The executive negotiates the treaties in accordance with the procedure defined by international law and also in accordance with the provisions the constitution of the state.

Each treaty is signed by a member of the executive. Most of the treaties also require ratification by the legislature of the State. It is again the responsibility of the executive to secure legislative approval for the treaties signed by it.

4. Defence, War and Peace Functions:

One of the key functions of the state is to defend and preserve the unity and integrity of the country and protect it in the event of an external aggression or war. It is the responsibility of the executive to undertake this work. To organise military for the defence of the state, to prepare for and fight the war, if it becomes necessary, and to negotiate and sign peace settlement after every war, are the functions performed by the executive.

The executive is the final judge of the nature of the threat to the security of the country. It has the prime responsibility to take all such steps as are needed in the interest of the security and integrity of the state. The chief executive of the state is also the supreme commander of the armed forces of the state.

5. Foreign Policy-making and the Conduct of Foreign Relations:


In this age of ever-increasing global interdependence, it has become one of the most important functions of a government to formulate the foreign policy of the state and to conduct foreign relations. This function is also performed by the executive.

The executive formulates the goals of national interest and fixes the priorities. It first formulates the foreign policy of the nation and then implements it for securing the defined goals of national interest. The executive appoints the ambassadors of the state to other states.

6. Policy-making:

Modern welfare state has to carry out a large number of functions for securing the socio-economic-cultural development of its people. It has to formulate policies, prepare short-term and long-term plans and implement these. All actions of the state are guided by definite policies and plans.

It is the executive which undertakes the task of policy-making and developmental planning. These are the two most important functions of the executive, because by these the state carries out its objective of promoting the welfare of its people.

7. Functions relating to Law-making:


Law-making is primarily the function of the legislature. However, the executive also plays a role in law-making. In this sphere too the role of the executive has been increasing by leaps and bounds. In a parliamentary system, the ministers are also members of the legislature and they play a leading role in law-making.

Most of the bills for legislation are introduced and piloted by them in the legislature. Most of the time of the legislature is spent in passing the governmental bills. The bills passed by the legislature become laws only after these are signed by the Head of the State.

8. Law-making under the system of Delegated Legislation:

The system of delegated legislation has considerably increased the law-making role of the executive. Under this system, the legislature delegates some of its law-making powers to the executive. The executive then makes rules on the basis of these powers. The amount of delegated legislation made by the executive far out-weighs the laws passed by the legislature.

9. Financial Functions:

It is the legislature which is the custodian of all finances. It has the power to impose, or reduce or eliminate a tax. However, in actual practice, the executive exercises a number of financial functions. It has the responsibility to prepare the budget. It proposes the levy of new taxes or changes in tax structure and administration. It collects and spends the money as sanctioned by the legislature.


The executive decides the ways and means through which the money is to be collected and spent. It formulates all economic policies and plans. It takes suitable measures for regulating the production and distribution of goods, money supply, prices and exports and imports. It contracts foreign loans, negotiates foreign aid and maintains the financial credibility of the state.

10. Some Semi-Judicial Functions:

The appointment of judges by the executive is regarded as the best method for ensuring the independence of judiciary. In almost all democratic systems, the chief executive has the power to appoint judges. Further, he has the right to grant pardon, reprieve and amnesty to criminals. Under the system of administrative adjudication, the executive agencies have the power to hear and decide cases involving particular fields of administrative activity.

11. Grant of Titles and Honours:

Another important function of the executive is to grant titles and honours to the people in recognition of their meritorious services to the nation. Such persons who do commendable work in their respective spheres of activity—Art, Science, Literature etc. are granted titles by the executive.

It also grants titles to such defence personnel who show exemplary courage and devotion to duty during war or peace. Even ordinary citizens are granted honours in recognition of their meritorious work for the society. All decisions in this respect are taken by the executive. These are the major functions performed by the Executive. Executive has indeed emerged as the most powerful organ of the government.

Types of Executive:

1. Nominal/Titular and Real Executives:


The difference between the nominal/titular and real executives is made only in a parliamentary system of government. In it, the head of state, the President or the Monarch, is the nominal executive and the Council of Ministers headed by the Prime Minister is the real executive. All the powers are legally the powers of the nominal executive but in practice these are exercised by the real executive.

The nominal executive is not responsible for its actions as these are performed in its name by the real executive. The real executive is responsible for all the actions of the nominal executive. The nominal executive is the ceremonial and dignified part of the executive, whereas the real executive is its powerful part.

2. Hereditary and Elected Executives:

When the executive assumes office by the law of hereditary succession, it is called the hereditary executive. When the executive is directly or indirectly elected by the people for a fixed period or even for life, it is called the elected executive. In Britain, Japan and Malaysia there are hereditary chief executives. In India, USA, Germany and many other states there are elected chief executives.

3. Single and Plural Executives:


When all the executive powers are in the hands of a single functionary/leader, it is called a single executive. In India, Britain, USA, Australia, France and many other states there are single executives. In India, all the executive powers are with the President of India. Likewise under the US Constitution, the executive powers are with the President of the United States of America.

When the executive powers are vested with a group of persons or in a committee/council/commission and these are collectively exercised by all the members of this commission/council, the executive is called the Plural Executive. As for example, in Switzerland all the executive powers have been given to the Federal Council which consists of seven members. All the members collectively exercise all the executive powers.

4. Parliamentary and Presidential Executives:

The distinction between the parliamentary and presidential executives is made on the basis of relationship between the legislature and executive.

In Parliamentary Executive there is:

(i) A close relationship between legislature and executive and members of the executive are also members of the legislature,

(ii) The members of political executive is individually and collectively responsible before the legislature,

(iii) The tenure of the political executive is not fixed as it can be at any time removed by the legislature, and

(iv) The legislative can be dissolved by the executive.

In a Presidential Executive, there is:

(i) Separation of powers between the executive and the legislature;

(ii) The membership of the two organs is incompatible i.e. member of one cannot be a member of the other;

(iii) The executive is not responsible to the legislature; and

(iv) Neither can dissolve nor remove the other.

The parliamentary executives are functioning in India, U.K., Canada, New Zealand, Australia and several other states. In the United States of America, the executive is presidential. In France there is a mixture of these two forms of Executive.

Related Articles:

  1. The State Council of Ministers: it’s Power and Functions
  2. Governor of a State: Functions and Position of the Governor

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