New Delhi: One reality is this – From July 1, the most basic necessity for women’s hygiene – a sanitary napkin will become costlier. On the contrary, in India till today, around 88% of the 355 million menstruating women do not use any menstrual wear, simply because it is unaffordable. GST – ‘One Nation, One Tax’ is being touted as the biggest reform since Independence which will subsume more than 1,200 goods and 500 services. Under GST the sanitary pads will be taxed at 12%, earlier they were taxed up to 14.5% depending on states, even though there is a 2.5% reduction but the irony is that bangles, sindoor, bindis and condoms are exempted. Industry experts have voiced their opinions and asked the GST Council, chaired by Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, to reconsider rates fixed for sanitary napkins under the new indirect tax regime.
As India awaits this massive rollout today, NDTV spoke to some of the industry experts to get their viewpoint on the matter:
Dear Mr Arun Jaitely, Sanitary Napkins Should Be Tax-Free, Period
If sanitary napkins will be taxed 12% then definitely the market will hit badly. The availability of sanitary products is low in rural India already, when the government will make the products even more costly, then isn’t it obvious that it will affect the overall accessibility?, says Nalini Shekar a social activist and a founder of Hasiru Dala (Green Force), a non-profit organisation that is helping marginalised waste pickers in Bengaluru.
Reiterating the fact that GST council should revise taxes for Sanitary Napkins, Jaydeep Mandal, founder at Aakar Innovations, which has developed Anandi Pads that are affordable and 100% compostable, added, “As it is the market for the eco-friendly sanitary napkins is challenging in India, rising tax on the products will definitely make the situation worse. If you look out globally, many countries have exempted taxes for as basic a thing as a sanitary napkin, then why are we so different? Sanitary Napkin should not be treated as a luxurious item, please. If the situation is so that government must charge tax on these products then at least the rate/price range of the particular product should be kept in mind. For example, for a product in a range of Rs. 40-50 the tax should be 0%, and for rest of the higher end products it should be in the next high category and that’s 5%, but that too, if it is necessary.”
The Future: Menstrual Products Should Get A Separate Category
One this is that menstrual products should be treated as the basic thing for women’s health, hygiene, and well-being, on the other hand, to raise awareness about menstrual hygiene in India, it is required that the government should take few steps on its own.
Highlighting this aspect, Tanya Mahajan, Co-founder and Managing Partner of Zariya and Lead Member of Menstrual Hygiene Management alliance, said, as a premise taxing sanitary napkins is simply wrong, first and foremost, it is a basic necessity millions of women need almost every month. It should be treated as an essential item and not as a luxury. Going deeper in the topic, menstrual products do not even fall under a separate category, they are falling under miscellaneous items. If we want to raise awareness about menstruation in India, the need of the hour is to start putting it under one main category. Adding on, within one main category there should be sub-categories – as there are varieties of menstrual products that are available in the market like disposable sanitary pad, non-biodegradable sanitary pads to name a few. It is a way forwards for the country and it is an essential step that needs to be taken.
In the same vein, Arundati Muralidharan, Manager-Policy from WaterAid stressed that there is the need to recognise the big basket of menstrual products available in the market and that can only be done if the government or the GST tax structure recognise and define a separate category of menstrual hygiene products and not combine it with the miscellaneous category. Adding further she said,
The GST tax structure should identify sub-categories of menstrual hygiene products beyond sanitary napkins and tampons like bio-degradable and non-bio-degradable disposable sanitary napkins, reusable menstrual cups, reusable cloth pads, tampons and others, simply because they all are disposed and treated differently. By doing just this, the government will give a boost to the manufacturers, raw materials. The recognisation is important for the future of our country.
Across the country, this decision made by GST council is being questioned – Some women staged protests, sat on hunger strikes, whereas some met the authorities to request the Finance Minister to review his decision again, but, nothing has been done so far.