The Indian Administrative Service has begun a campaign to ensure that its historically privileged position over other central services remains in place, with top bureaucrats writing protest letters to the Department of Personnel and Training ahead of the Seventh Central Pay Commission’s recommendations, documents available with The Indian Express reveal.
The campaign kicked off last week, when a WhatsApp group run by serving IAS officers posted a message that other services, like the Indian Revenue Service and Indian Police Service, had successfully lobbied “to bring in pay parity, and do away with the edge enjoyed by the IAS which has been successively upheld by every pay commission till date”.
“Please burn some midnight oil and pour your heart out,” the message continued. “You deserve what you deserve. Young officers with 20-30 years of service have everything to lose if we don’t stand up now… Huge noises of anguish and dissent should be heard in the power corridors.”
Sanjay Bhoosreddy, the head of the central IAS Association, said more than 200 officers had so far written protest letters. “There is a great deal of frustration among young officers. The status of the IAS was greatly eroded by the 5th CPC (Central Pay Commission), and has fallen further since. Fine young minds will not be drawn to the IAS if this trend continues,” he says, adding, “We are discussing the issue, and will decide on a course of action.”
IAS officers are typically promoted two years earlier than their counterparts in other services, receive two additional increments, and are empanelled for positions in Central ministries far earlier in their careers. The other services are seeking parity, saying they have specialist skills the IAS does not.
IRS officers have launched a counter-campaign in their own closed WhatsApp group, with one message released on Thursday saying that the IAS’s proximity to politicians had allowed it to “not only influence the political system, but also to hijack the developmental narrative. It is amply clear that a systemic chaos is created to create a kind of oligarchy.”
“Winning a gold medal once does not entitle anyone to an automatic gold medal in every competition in their life,” the message stated, a reference to IAS officers’ claims that their higher grade in examinations demonstrates their merit.
The non-IAS services have argued before the Pay Commission for positions to be assigned on the basis of domain competence, rather than service alone.
Bhoosreddy disagrees. “Look, IAS officers acquire very specialised skills. An auditor might be an excellent auditor, but that doesn’t mean they’re competent to execute projects… And the fact is marks matter. If I only got the marks to become a physiotherapist, I can’t demand the same pay and privileges as someone who qualified to become a surgeon.”
Letters — many bearing near-identical text — have been pouring into the DoPT since the call went out for IAS officers to make their “anguish” known.
Bureaucrat Sanjeev Kaushik, writing on the IAS Association’s members-only page, said, “The combined might of every other service is beginning to tell in the unconfirmed reports we are receiving — which are likely to not only be blatantly unfair to us but are also completely beyond the purview/remit of the CPC.”
“For far too long we have held the view that we in the IAS are the decision makers and therefore cannot behave like unions of other services’ employees,” Kaushik’s post added. “But it’s best to be aggressive and protective of our turf.”
In one letter, Lower Dibang Valley Deputy Commissioner Ravi Dhawan argued that IAS officers have skill-sets “incomparable to a person with a desk-job in an office that is insulated from public interaction”.
“A case in point,” he went on, “can be the IRS (IT) service wherein the entire gamut of interaction can only be with tax assesses, a number that is less than 4% of India’s population — one of the lowest tax bases in the world, something that also speaks about the efficacy of our tax administration.”
Danish Ashraf, a Sub-Divisional Magistrate in Chandigarh, whose letter replicates several portions of Dhawan’s letter, conceded that “the importance of specialist knowledge… in select situations is undeniable”. However, he added, “the combination of field experience and subject-specific posts equips an IAS officer with a superior understanding”.
Narmada district’s District Development Officer Sajalkumar Mayatra, in a letter which also shares its opening paragraph and several subsequent passages with the other letters, took an emotional tone, voicing concern for “the future paradigm of a service that I deeply love”.
G Parthasarathy, a former Indian Foreign Service officer, said the campaign reflected “the steady decline in the dignity and self-respect which traditionally characterised the higher echelons of the civil services”. “While it would be entirely appropriate for a service association to make representations on behalf of its members, this individual campaigning is very distasteful.”