The Indian government says it will review new appraisal forms requiring female civil servants to reveal details of their menstrual cycles.

The ministry of personnel says it has written to the health ministry following complaints from staff that the form was grossly insensitive.

The questions are said to have been inserted on health ministry advice.

Annual appraisals and health checks are mandatory in India's civil service, one of the country's largest employers.

'Gob smacked'

The secretary of the personnel department at the federal Ministry for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions, Satyanand Mishra, told the BBC a medical check-up clause was being introduced for the first time for civil servants above the age of 40.

He said that the form - designed in consultation with the health ministry - was due to come into effect from 31 March 2008.

Mr Mishra said that since women officers had raised objections about certain questions in the form, he had written to the health ministry to ask whether specific information about their menstrual cycles was really required.

He said he had asked for a quick response.

Mr Mishra was quoted by the Hindustan Times on Wednesday saying he assumed the new questions "will help evaluate the officer's fitness".

Under the new nationwide requirements, female officials also have to say when they last sought maternity leave.

One senior female member of staff said she was "gob smacked" at being asked about her menstrual cycle.

'No words'

The questions at the root of the controversy are on page 58 of the new appraisal forms for the current year issued by the Ministry for Personnel, Public Grievances and Pensions.

Women officers must write down their "detailed menstrual history and history of LMP [last menstrual period] including date of last confinement [maternity leave]," the form says.

Women working in the civil service told the BBC the government had no need for this kind of personal information.

"I am completely shocked!" said Sharwari Gokhale, environment secretary in western Maharashtra state.

"I have absolutely no words to describe how I feel and I have no intention of telling them anything about my personal life. I am gob smacked."

Maharashtra's joint secretary for general administration, Seema Vyas, agreed that the new questions were uncalled for.

"Menstrual cycles are a natural phenomenon, they are not an aberration. One does not object to questions related to fitness levels - they are important as they can affect work.

"But there is no need for these details as this does not have any bearing on our work," she told the BBC.

"When we apply for maternity leave, we put in the appropriate application and the government already has those records so why ask again?"