[Explained] Defence Officers Rank Parity Issue with Civil Counterparts

Defence Minister Niramala Sitharaman ordered the withdrawal of a Ministry letter which downgraded defence officers rank as compared to their civil counterparts in the Army Headquarters.

The letter, dated October 18, 2016 bought the ranks of armed forces officers a notch down as compared to the earlier status of their equivalent in Armed Force Headquarters Civil Service (AFHQ CS).

The Ranks:

First let us see the current ranks which are in consideration according to the latest order and their equivalent civil ranks, according to decreasing order of seniority:

Maj Gen/Rear Adm/AVM
Brig/Commodore/Air Commodore
Colonel/Capt/Gp Capt
Lt Col/Cdr/Wg Cdr
Major/Lt Cdr/Sqn Ldr
Principal Director
Joint Director
Deputy Director
Section Officer

The Issue:

The issue of rank parity is that the defence officers are compared at par with their civilian counterparts in the AFHQ CS with a downgraded view.

In the October 18, 2016 letter, the rank equivalence between civilian officers and serving military officers were made on the basis of their functional responsibilities. Before this letter, military ranks were greater in equivalence to their civil counterparts.

According to the October 18, 2016 letter:


Defence = AFHQ CS
Maj Gen/Rear Adm/AVM = Principal Director
Brig/Commodore/Air Commodore = Director
Colonel/Capt/Gp Capt = Joint Director

Before October 18, 2016 letter was enforced

Defence = AFHQ CS
Maj Gen/Rear Adm/AVM  = Joint Secretary
Brig/Commodore/Air Commodore = Deputy Director General
Colonel/Capt/Gp Capt = Director

The ranks of Joint Secretary and Dy DG are higher than the rank of Principal Director. This equated the ranks of defence personnel with higher ranks of AFHQ CS personnel.

The Ego:

The October 18 letter triggered a widespread anguish in the armed forces where their military rank signifies their pride, honour and achievement.

A Brigadier/Commodore/Air Commodore with 25-26 years of service was made equivalent to a Director in AFHQ CS with about 14 years of service, and a Colonel/Captain/Group Captain to a Joint Director.

The forces had lodged a serious protest, questioning the veracity of claims in the report and the documents relied upon.

The army is categorically objecting to the systematic downgrading of Defence Officers in status/equivalence vis a vis civilian officers.

The Solution:

The restructuring of the civilian cadre will be carried out at a later stage as approved by the Union Cabinet.‚Äč For the meanwhile, the previous equivalence was restored.

The Steps Taken:

  1. Ministry of Defence letter dated October 18, 2016 on the issue of equivalence between Armed Forces Officers and Armed Forces Headquarters Civil Services (AFHQ CS) Officers is withdrawn.
  2. The cadre restructuring of AFHQ CS as approved by the Union Cabinet shall be duly implemented. Designations to be created in consequence of the additional posts sanctioned by the Cabinet will be done in consultation with Service HQs.
  3. Local designations assigned both Service and Civilian Officers in Service Headquarters/InterService Organisations (ISOs) is hereby withdrawn. Both Service and Civilian Officers will use their respective cadre designations only.
  4. So far as the Channel of reporting/rendition of Annual Performance Appraisal Report (APAR) is concerned, status quo ante is hereby restored, i.e., the position which existed prior to the issue of MoD letter dated October 18, 2016 shall prevail.

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