New Delhi: The GST Council Meet in its 28th edition held on July 21 decided to exempt sanitary pads from Goods and Services Tax (GST). After the meeting, Maharashtra Minister Sudhir Munganti confirmed the news. Though sanitary napkins have been exempted from the GST, inputs in the production of sanitary napkins are still taxable. But the move is expected to bring down the costs of these essential hygiene products for women and hopefully make it more accessible.
GST On Sanitary Pads: Why Were Women Protesting?
The welcome move comes after almost a year-long opposition from women across different sections of the society. Prior to implementation of GST that unified the taxes applied across the country, sanitary napkins fell under different tax rates, but the average tax rate was around 14.5 per cent. GST when implemented last year put sanitary pads in the 12 per cent tax bracket, leading to outrage from women since some other products used by women like sindoor, bangles, and bindis were exempt from GST. Something highlighted by celebrities like Actor and author Twinkle Khanna.
Apart from celebrities, a PIL was also filed by Zarmina Israr Khan, a Ph.D. scholar, in the High Court protesting this imposition of tax on something that is not a luxury but an essential product for women. The last report came on July 21 by GST council in which they were mulling about the fact that they reduce tax from 12 per cent to 5 per cent.
Then there were group of students who sent sanitary napkins with menstrual hygiene messages to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, urging him to do away with Goods and Services Tax imposed on sanitary pads.
Sanitary Pads In India, What’s The Big Deal?
In India, 88 per cent of the menstruating women do not have access to sanitary napkins, reason being – lack of affordability and accessibility. According to a 2014 report by the NGO Dasra titled – Spot On!, nearly 23 million girls drop out of school annually due to lack of proper menstrual hygiene management facilities, which include availability of sanitary napkins and basic awareness about menstruation. If not sanitary napkins then how do women in India handle their periods? Well, from cloth, to husk, sand and even ash, the unhygienic practices that women in India indulge in range from shocking to dangerous. Given the dismal state of menstrual hygiene in India, the 12 per cent GST was being seen as deterrent to promote the use of sanitary pads in India.
Given the traditional high price of sanitary pads in India a number of NGOs and individuals tried to promote the use of these products by creating low cost version of pads. One such prominent initiative was that of Arunachalam Muruganantham, who is now well-known as India’s Pad Man. There are some like Meena Mehta from Surat, pad sisters from Jaipur who are running Pad Banks to help women access sanitary napkins at a reasonable price. But scalability of these initiatives remain limited given the sheer scale of the problem.
Swachh Bharat Abhiyan And Menstrual Hygiene
That is where the role of the government becomes crucial. A subset of the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan is the conversation that has started around menstrual hygiene. From toilets with sanitary pad vending machines to giving sanitary pads for free in schools, there is a move to shatter the taboo around menstrual hygiene. Take Maharashtra’s Asmita Yojana scheme. It aims at providing sanitary pads at a discounted price to women of the state.
Sanitary Pad Waste: Biodegradable Vs Non-Biodegradable
As toilets are built with sanitary pad vending machines, the other challenge is managing the waste being generated from discarding these pads. India still doesn’t have a scientific mechanism to tackle non-biodegradable waste like sanitary pads. While some of these toilets being built under the Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, come with incinerators, there is also a case being made for non-biodegradable sanitary pads. Some NGOs and individuals are already working in this direction and as an overall push is being made to get more women to adopt hygiene products like sanitary pads, some of these issues will also need to be addressed. Exemption from GST is only a small step in addressing the larger issue of menstrual hygiene.
Sanitary Napkins Exempted From GST: Social Media Reacts
Thankful to GST Council and Minister @PiyushGoyal for exempting Sanitary Napkins from GST; a welcome step towards encouraging menstrual hygiene among young girls and women. #GoodandSimpleGST pic.twitter.com/1jFsyTdsC4
— Smriti Z Irani (@smritiirani) July 21, 2018
A welcome decision to exempt sanitary napkins from GST at the 28th #GSTCouncilMeet chaired by Shri @PiyushGoyal. An important step by @narendramodi Govt. that is vital to the health and well-being of women and girls.
— Manohar Parrikar (@manoharparrikar) July 21, 2018
— Tajinder Pal Singh Bagga (@TajinderBagga) July 21, 2018
Now that's what I call an incredible move.
Many thanks to our Government for taking a decision to Exempt Sanitary Napkin from the Umbrella of GST, which not only empower our women's but also encourage healthy nation.#GSTCouncilMeet
— Harsh Sanghavi (@sanghaviharsh) July 21, 2018
A welcome decision to exempt sanitary napkins from GST at the 28th #GSTCouncilMeet .An important step by @narendramodi Government. This decision is vital to the health and well-being of women and girls.
I thank @PiyushGoyal Ji & member of GST Council for this important decision.
— Jagat Prakash Nadda (@JPNadda) July 21, 2018
NDTV – Dettol Banega Swachh India campaign lends support to the Government of India’s Swachh Bharat Mission (SBM). Helmed by Campaign Ambassador Amitabh Bachchan, the campaign aims to spread awareness about hygiene and sanitation, the importance of building toilets and making India open defecation free (ODF) by October 2019, a target set by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, when he launched Swachh Bharat Abhiyan in 2014. Over the years, the campaign has widened its scope to cover issues like air pollution, waste management, plastic ban, manual scavenging and menstrual hygiene. The campaign has also focused extensively on marine pollution, clean Ganga Project and rejuvenation of Yamuna, two of India’s major river bodies.