The gathering discontent against the recommendations of the sixth pay commission found a loud echo in the Union Cabinet on Friday, with railway minister Lalu Prasad strongly asking for a review of what he called "a package loaded in favour of big babus in the IAS".
The recommendations were iniquitous and would increase salary disparities among different sections of employees, Lalu said. He added that while secretaries and other senior IAS officers had fared well, other services — police, paramilitary forces, defence services, railways, as well as lower and middle-rank functionaries of almost all central services — had been given a short shrift.
Lalu's strong advocacy received support, according to sources, from defence minister A K Antony, home minister Shivraj Patil and others, leading Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to suggest that the recommendations were not the last word and the government would take a view after a detailed scrutiny of the report and the grievances it has generated.
The Cabinet cleared a proposal to set up a high-level panel headed by cabinet secretary K M Chandrashekhar to screen the recommendations and look into the alleged anomalies.
The 12-member committee will comprise secretaries of the ministries of home, defence, revenue and expenditure.
The secretary of the department of post, secretary of security, deputy CAG, and financial commissioner and member secretary of the Railway Board will be the other members of the panel.
"The final recommendations of the committee will be submitted to the Cabinet for approval," science and technology minister Kapil Sibal told reporters after the Cabinet meeting. The minister did not announce any time-frame by which the committee would submit its report.
Given the widespread grievances against the pay panel's "bias" for IAS, there are doubts whether the agitating sections will accept the recommendations of the panel dominated by the "elite corps".
Meanwhile, The IPS Association has already asked for setting up of a GoM to go into their demand for "principle of parity in pay, promotion, pension and service conditions with IAS". The stand was finalized at a meeting of IPS officers drawn from across the country on Thursday.
"One should not forget what happened to similar committees formed after the fourth and fifth pay commission. The follow-up reports by such panels were merely an eyewash as it hardly addressed the grievances of employees," said a senior IPS officer.
What increases the prospect of a GoM is the sympathy that the political class, ever resentful of the "obstructionist ways" of the "steel frame", has shown for the discontented sections of the government servants since the pay commission unveiled its much-awaited report last month.
Before Lalu, UP chief minister Mayawati had come out strongly for the IPS cadre and the cops can only be expected to step up the lobbying.
The bubbling resentment came out in the open in the Capital on Friday with the Central Secretariat Services Association holding a huge protest demonstration. Members of the association have decided to observe a "protest week", beginning May 21.
There was strong fear of the employees cranking up their protests and was suspected to be the main reason for Lalu's forceful intervention in the Cabinet.
While the government had expected some protests, its willingness to deal with them would be constrained by the looming polls. Sections are wary of the implications of any generosity on the fiscal figures. But it has to balance the concern with consideration not to appear insensitive to the demands of a vocal and organized workforce that has a disproportionate say in influencing opinion.
Then, it also has to reckon with powerful partners as well as the Left who have traditionally been more aligned with the aspirations of the cops and non-IAS sections of the bureaucracy.