With the strikes by truckers and oil sector employees disrupting normal life across the country,there was more frustration for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Friday with his Transport Minister absent from the Cabinet meeting.
While the Cabinet was unanimous about the need for tough action to break the strike,the PM was unusually and visibly upset as he found T R Baalu,Union Minister of Shipping,Road Transport & Highways,absent from the Cabinet meeting when the issue of truckers strike came up for discussion,sources said.
The Secretary who represented the Ministry at the meeting had no explanation for the ministers absence. The PM,sources said,called up the minister later and asked him to fly to Delhi immediately.
Petroleum Minister Murli Deora read out from a two-page note summing up the background and the context of the strike by oil sector employees. As there were more queries,the Petroleum Secretary was called in to brief the Cabinet.
A meeting of the Cabinet Committee on Economic Affairs that was to follow was cancelled subsequently. Home Minister P Chidambaram,who heads the ministerial committee to consider the demands of oil PSU executives,briefed the Cabinet about the factors that led to the strike. The Cabinet was told about the salary structure of the employees and how senior executives were paid more than the Chief Justice of India. This evoked sharp reactions from the entire Cabinet as ministers called for tough action against the striking employees. There were suggestions like going on television channels and giving advertisements to expose the employees for their unjust demands,said sources. The Cabinet decided not to yield to striking employees and take tough action to break their strike.
Over the truckers strike,the Cabinet was briefed by the Transport Secretary who said that most of the demands related to states and that he was in touch with the states to resolve the crisis.