With over 355 million menstruating women in India, among whom 88 per cent do not have access to sanitary napkins, 12 per cent GST on sanitary napkins, which have been grouped with mobile phones and leather goods, would end up playing havoc with the reproductive health of large number of women, particularly from lower economic strata.
The issue of how “illegal” and “patently discriminatory” GST would negatively affect women in India has been raised in a public interest litigation filed before the Delhi High Court, which on Tuesday issued notice to the Ministry of Finance and the GST council seeking their response.
The petitioner, Zarmina Israr Khan, said she has filed the petition for the benefit of women in general, particularly those belonging to the lower economic strata of society to seek “recourse against the patently discriminatory and illegal treatment being meted out to the women of India by the unconstitutional and illegal imposition of a Goods and Services Tax at a high rate of 12% on sanitary napkins”.
Zarmina Israr Khan, a PhD scholar in African studies at the Jawahar Lal Nehru University, has sought quashing of 12 per cent GST on sanitary napkins, saying they have inexplicably been subjected to taxation under the GST and that, too, at a grossly high rate of 12% by grouping them with toys, leather goods, roasted coffee, mobile phones and processed foods amongst others items, all of which are subjected to a GST rate of 12%.
“The classification of an essential and critical sanitation product with goods non-essential to survival, reflect the extent of the gender-inclusive priorities, or the lack thereof, of the state,” said petitioner’s counsel Dr. Amit George.
“All types of contraceptives, including condoms have in fact been subjected to a ‘nil’ tax rate under the GST. The action of the Respondents amounts to ensuring that a woman is liable to pay tax on her inevitability to menstruate, a biological process that is inherent in women. Such an action, at best, represents a palpable nonchalance to the every-day reality faced by women in India, and at the worst, represents a parochial and misogynistic mindset,” she said.
The PIL comes just a day after the high court issued notices to the Centre, the Delhi government and the three municipal bodies on a PIL for providing free sanitary napkins to girls in their schools along with educating them on the subject.
PRICY SANITARY NAPKINS = POOR REPRODUCTIVE HEALTH
Zarmina Israr Khan says the root cause of approximately 70% of all reproductive diseases in India is poor menstrual hygiene. “Commercially manufactured sanitary napkins are expensive for low income users, and low-cost pads vary in reach and quality. Consumers in India, particularly in rural and semi-urban areas are very price sensitive and affordability is the most crucial criterion for product adoption. Various studies and surveys with adolescent girls and women in urban and rural India have indicated high cost as the primary reason for not using a sanitary pad,” she said.
“All types of contraceptives, including condoms, have, in fact, been subjected to a ‘nil’ tax rate under the GST. The action of the Respondents amounts to ensuring that a woman is liable to pay tax on her inevitability to menstruate, a biological process that is inherent in women. Such an action, at best, represents a palpable nonchalance to the every-day reality faced by women in India, and at the worst, represents a parochial and misogynistic mind-set,” she said.
The petitioner said more women would stay away from pricy sanitary napkins, which will affect their health and, in turn, the economy.
Read the Petition Here