What is Dearness Allowance?

5 mins read
by Angel One
To combat inflation, India's public sector employees as well as retirees depend on Dearness Allowance (DA). Let us find out about DA, its calculation and more in detail.

Dearness Allowance (DA) is an important part of public sector and pensioner salaries in India to offset inflation. Due to regional cost of living differences, DA varies by employee location: urban, semi-urban, or rural. DA rates are updated semi-annually between January and July to reflect the economy’s volatility.

As of July 1, 2023, the DA rate has been raised to 46% of basic pay for central government workers, a major step towards adapting government staff and retirees’ incomes to current economic realities.

Different Types of Dearness Allowance

Now that you know the dearness allowance meaning, it is worth noting that not all DAs are equal. Dearness Allowance has two main forms, each servicing a different government sector demographic:

Variable Dearness Allowance (VDA): Aimed at Central Government workers, the VDA is modified every six months by the Consumer Price Index (CPI). This kind of DA is intended to shield workers from inflation’s unpredictable nature. Three primary components make up the VDA calculation: a monthly-varying CPI, a base index that stays constant for a certain duration of time, and a set variable DA amount. VDA’s dynamic nature stems from its sensitivity to fluctuations in the CPI, which guarantees that wage adjustments accurately reflect variations in the real cost of living.

Industrial Dearness Allowance (IDA): This kind of DA is relevant to workers in public sector enterprises (PSUs). IDA adjustments are done quarterly, again depending on changes in the CPI, in contrast to VDA. The IDA and VDA have the same goal of maintaining workers’ buying power in the face of inflation by adjusting employee pay to reflect increases in the cost of living.

Calculation of DA

Dearness Allowance was created post-World War II to mitigate the expense of living’s influence on workers’ salaries. DA calculation methods changed significantly after 2006. Currently, the calculation uses the All-India Consumer Price Index (AICPI). The AICPI is averaged over 12 months for Central government employees and 3 months for Public Sector employees.  

DA is currently calculated as a particular proportion of an employee’s base remuneration This component, along with others like House Rent Allowance (HRA) and Conveyance Allowance, adds to the gross salary.

For Central Government Employees: The DA percentage is calculated using the formula:

DA%=(115.76Average AICPI for the last 12 months−115.76​)×100 

For Public Sector Employees: The formula for calculating the DA percentage is:

DA%=(126.33Average AICPI for the last 3 months−126.33​)×100

In these formulas 

  • The Dearness Allowance is calculated using DA%.
  • The average AICPI for the past 12 months is the mean of the Central Government Employees’ AICPI readings.
  • The average AICPI for the past 3 months is the mean of the Public Sector Employee AICPI readings.
  • The formulas for Central Government and Public Sector employees use base values of 115.76 and 126.33, respectively. These values are used to normalise the DA calculation against the base year 2001, where the index is set at 100.

How is DA Treated Under Income Tax?

The treatment of Dearness Allowance under the Income Tax Act 1961 is straightforward—DA is fully taxable for salaried employees. This taxation applies when DA forms a part of the salary contributing to retirement benefits, necessitating its declaration when filing tax returns. The taxability of DA underscores its significance in the overall salary structure, impacting the net taxable income of employees.

Difference Between DA and HRA

  • Purpose and Applicability: The purpose of DA is to maintain employees’ spending power across geographic locations by compensating for inflation-related cost of living. On the other hand, HRA helps employees afford housing, avoiding the excessive expense of renting. HRA supports public and private sector employees, whereas DA exclusively applies to public sector employees.
  • Calculation Basis: Because the DA computation is closely linked with the CPI, it is a changeable component that varies with rates of inflation. The cost of living adjustments are reflected in periodic changes to the DA percentages. In contrast, there is no set method for calculating HRA that is dependent on economic data such as the CPI. Instead, subject to certain restrictions and limitations imposed by tax regulations, HRA amounts are decided by variables including income, place of residence, and actual rent paid.
  • Tax Exemptions: The way that DA and HRA are treated tax-wise is one of the biggest distinctions between them. According to the Income Tax Act of 1961, DA is completely taxable and has no exemptions depending on how it is used. Conversely, HRA provides tax advantages subject to certain limitations; employees are eligible for tax exemptions on HRA if they pay their rent and if the rent surpasses 10% of their wage. For employees, this difference makes HRA a more tax-efficient part of the compensation package.

Role of Pay Commissions in DA Calculation

In India, pay commissions have a fundamental influence on how government employees are paid, particularly how Dearness Allowance (DA) is determined and adjusted. 

Evaluation and Recommendations: The Pay Commission reviews base salary, DA, and other allowances. They consider inflation, cost of living, and economic factors when considering DA rate modifications. These recommendations aim to keep government pay competitive and adequate to cover rising living costs.

Effect on DA Calculation: Pay Commissions advocate a rigorous DA calculation method that accounts for current economic data and inflation. The 7th Pay Commission, the latest to report, proposed a new DA computing technique that could affect inflation adjustments. The commissions also propose how frequently DA rates should be adjusted to reflect economic developments.

Multiplication Factor: Selecting the multiplication factor for use in DA computations is a crucial part of the Pay Commissions’ job description. This component ensures that DA adjustments are acceptable and sensitive to genuine cost of living changes.

Wrapping Up 

DA, which is updated semi-annually, helps employees preserve their buying power in the face of changing economic situations. Despite being completely taxed, DA’s relevance in compensating for living expenses emphasises its importance in government pay packages.


How does one compute Dearness Allowance?

The All-India Consumer Price Index (AICPI) is included in the DA calculation algorithm by adjusting it against a base year (2001 = 100 in this case). It is computed using a 12-month average of the AICPI for Central Government workers and a 3-month average for Public Sector employees, respectively, against a predetermined base.

Does Income Tax apply to Dearness Allowance?

Dearness Allowance is completely taxable under the 1961 Income Tax Act. The income tax return must include it as part of the pay. The tax treatment underlines DA’s role in public sector employee remuneration.

What is the difference between DA and HRA?

DA (Dearness Allowance) covers inflation-related living expenditures, whereas HRA covers housing costs. HRA supports public and private sector workers, whereas DA solely benefits public sector workers. HRA may waive taxes under specific situations, unlike DA.

How frequently is DA updated?

Dearness Allowance is adjusted in January and July to reflect inflation and cost of living increases. These periodic adjustments keep government pay in line with economic realities.

Is DA location-dependent?

Yes. Because DA is designed to consider the disparities in the cost of living across various geographic areas, it varies for workers depending on whether they work in urban, semi-urban, or rural areas. This method guarantees that the allowance appropriately captures the effect of inflation unique to each locale.