The long wait of lakhs of Central government officers and staff is about to end as the Sixth Pay Commission is expected to finalise its report "very soon," well before its term ends on April 4.
Even before the pay panel submits its recommendations to the government, the first indication of what is in store for officialdom could be available in 10 days' time when Finance Minister P Chidambaram makes his Budget speech.
Since the employees' fortunes are almost certain to be touched upon, the commission is keeping its recommendations a closely guarded secret, although speculation on the quantum of salary hike have ranged from a moderate 30% to a highly optimistic 165%.
Apart from his speech itself, the actual allocation by the Finance Minister under the head: salaries and pensions, may well be another indicator of what is in store for employees. But even before the February 29 Budget, the Rail Budget, commission sources said, could come as an eye-opener as well as the "profit-making" railways is looking for ways to meet its expected salary and pension bill of Rs 9,000 crore in the light of possible salary changes and a tight-fisted Finance Ministry.
A pre-Budget meeting of the commission is being awaited and this could be scheduled to consequently enable the Finance Minister to make a mention of possible hikes for lakhs of employees, including those in defence and paramilitary forces. Sooner or later, the state governments across the country revise salary structures of their employees in accordance with what is accepted at the Centre.
Commission sources did not rule out a pre-Budget formal presentation before Chidambaram but added that the panel was "unlikely" to make a mention of any change in the present retirement age of 60 years.
"There are two distinct processes - the commission recommending a salary structure and the government accepting the proposals. The commission has interacted with a large range of players, held wide-ranging meetings, received petitions and paid visits to different parts of the country. The outcome of this prolonged process would be reflected in the recommendations," the sources said.