The Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India submitted before the Bombay High Court that a decision on declaration of sanitary napkin as "essential commodity" within the meaning of Section 2A of Essential Commodities Act, 1955, can only be taken after understanding the current market scenario and ascertaining the demand supply gap if any.
On June 5, the division bench of Chief Justice Dipankar Datta and Justice AA Sayed while hearing the PIL filed by Nikita Gore, a law clerk- cum research associate at Aurangabad bench and final year law student Vaishnavi Gholave at GLC, had asked the Union of India to file a counter affidavit in the matter.
Following this, Dilip Sahu, working as Under Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India submitted the affidavit-in-reply on Monday.
The PIL seeks directions to concerned authorities to declare sanitary napkin as an "essential commodity"and points out that sanitary napkins are an essential requirement for every woman and they have a right to get it at a cheaper rate but due to increase in GST on input raw material for sanitary napkins, the cost of these napkins has increased.
GST imposed on input raw materials of sanitary napkins is at the rate of 12-18% .
The PIL states-
"As per health ministry data, only 12% of India's 355 million women use sanitary napkins. Over 88% of women resort to alternatives such as unsanitized cloth, ashes and husk sand. Incidents of Reproductive Tract Infection (RTI) are 70% more common among these women."
The Union Health Ministry contends in the affidavit that Public Health and Hospitals is a State subject. However, under the National Health Mission (NHM), support is provided to the States /UTs to strengthen their health care systems including procurement of items and drugs based on the proposals received from the States in their Programme Implementation Plans (PIPs). These PIPs are appraised in the National Programme Coordination Committee (NPCC) meetings and approvals are accorded to States/ UTs in the form of Record of Proceedings (RoPs).
National Health Mission provides technical and financial assistance to States based on their proposals as mentioned above. The National Health Mission fund sharing pattern is 60:40 between the Central Government and most of the States and UTs with legislature, the affidavit states.
Moreover, it was submitted that the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has been implementing the Scheme for Promotion of Menstrual Hygiene among adolescent girls in the age group of 10-19 years as part of the Reproductive Child Health since 2011. Since 2Ol5- 16, the procurement of sanitary napkins is being supported by National Health Mission through State Programme Implementation Plan (PIP) route based on the proposals received from the States. States/UTs have decentralized procurement of sanitary napkins through a competitive bidding process ensuring quality standards.
The Ministry opposed the contention that Union had failed to ensure availability of sanitary napkins during the current situation surrounding Covid-19 and said-
"Petitioners have made a sweeping allegation that the government machineries were not working properly during the lockdown. The allegation is made in a bald and reckless manner and is therefore denied. It is submitted that besides taking care of the nation in fighting the pandemic, as the Nodal Department, the ministry has during the lockdown issued Guidance Note during and post COVID 19 pandemic."
Also, the ministry has been issuing study material and literature to the ASHA Workers, educating them and calling upon them to sensitize the masses about the need of maintaining menstrual hygiene , and the process is ongoing, the affidavit states.
Finally, with regard to the main prayer about declaring sanitary napkin an "essential commodity", the affidavit states-
"I submit that the decision to bring sanitary napkins under the essential commodities may be done after understanding the current market scenario; the demand supply gap, if any; also keeping in mind the various options of brands, quality, specification, costing and preferences of the beneficiaries .The decision should be taken after due consultative process under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs ensuring involvement of all stakeholders and that there is no adverse effect on the beneficiaries and at the same time it fulfils the intent of the petitioner."
The matter is likely to be heard on July 19 next.
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