The decision taken by different state governments to cut or defer salaries of government employees in light of the COVID-19 pandemic has stoked resentment among Indian Administrative Service (IAS), Indian Police Service (IPS) and Indian Forest Service (IFS) officers posted there.

While some have dismissed the decision as “mere optics”, others said civil servants didn’t earn enough for the cuts to amount to a significant corpus. They also pointed out that the cuts came on top of the voluntary donations they had made to the PM-CARES fund.

The governments of Maharashtra, Telangana, Rajasthan, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh have announced that all elected representatives, as well as most government employees, will receive 50-70 per cent less pay in March to aid the battle against COVID-19.

While Maharashtra and Telangana have announced pay cuts, Rajasthan, Odisha and Andhra Pradesh have deferred a portion of salaries (100 per cent of elected representatives’ pay will be deferred in Andhra).

Some states have announced exemptions, including for police and healthcare workers in Rajasthan, and employees below Class III in Maharashtra.

All states have either invoked the impact of COVID-19 on finances or the need to shore up funds to justify the cuts, but several IAS, IPS and IFS officers told that the argument didn’t hold water.

“The salary of an IAS officer is no more than Rs 2.5 lakh (a month) even if they are at the most senior level in the state… The average salary is Rs 1.5-1.75 lakh,” said an IAS officer from Rajasthan.

“Even if there are 250 officers in a state like Rajasthan, how much are you actually saving? Rs 5 crore? Add all the IPS and IFS officers’ salaries, and you are not talking more than Rs 10-12 crore.”

An IAS Association office-bearer said senior officers constituted a fraction of staff in both the central government and the states.

“It is the Army, railways and the Central Armed Police Forces on which the government spends a large chunk of its resources… But deferring the salary of senior officers makes for better optics,” the officer said. “However, since it is just deferment, and not a salary cut, it is OK.”

An IFS officer agreed. “This seems like mere optics. The government is incurring expenses of thousands and thousands of crores due to COVID-19… How are they going to change anything by saving even Rs 20 crore?”

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