The Union Health and Family Welfare Ministry on Tuesday approved a scheme for providing highly subsidised sanitary napkins to adolescent girls in the rural areas to promote menstrual hygiene. The scheme, to be launched in 150 districts across the country in the first phase, will cost Rs.150 crore for the current financial year.

Approved by the Mission Steering Group – the highest decision-making body – of the National Rural Health Mission, at its sixth meeting here, the scheme envisages covering 1.5-crore girls in the age group of 10-19 years every month. Of this, the approximate number of APL girls is 105 lakh while that of the BPL category is 45 lakh. The napkins will be supplied to the below poverty line (BPL) girls at a nominal cost of Re.1 per pack of six while those girls living above poverty line (APL) will have to pay Rs.5 per pack.

Limited access

In India, menstruation and menstrual practices are clouded by taboos and socio-cultural restrictions for women as well as adolescent girls. Limited access to safe sanitary products and facilities is believed to be one of the reasons for constrained school attendance, high dropout rates and ill health due to infection.

Tamil Nadu, Haryana, Bihar, Rajasthan and Puducherry have already taken similar initiatives to promote menstrual hygiene among adolescent girls.

The 150 districts identified in the first phase include 30 from the four southern States, Maharashtra and Gujarat and 120 from northern, central and the north-eastern States. In the first year, the Centre will procure the napkins and supply these to the States that will in turn send these to Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) in the districts for distribution on a monthly basis or to the schools which will become distribution points for students.

As an incentive, ASHA will get one pack free every month in addition to Rs.50 per meeting she holds on a Sunday for creating awareness regarding menstrual hygiene among girls. Subsequently, States can choose to involve self-help groups for manufacturing and marketing sanitary napkins. At least 50 districts with a strong network of SHGs will be involved in the manufacture of napkins in the first phase itself. The ASHAs will procure sanitary napkins from the sub-centre for which she will be given Rs.300 from the untied fund. Each month, ASHA will replenish the imprest fund with the amount collected through the sale of napkins.

Safe disposal

For safe disposal of the napkins at the community level, deep-pit burial or burning are the options being considered. Due environmental clearance has to be obtained from the States for this. Installing incinerators in schools that can be manually operated is another option. Consultations are on with the Ministry of Environment and Forests for use of environment-friendly raw material and disposal mechanism.

States have been given the option of leveraging funds for incinerators through the Total Sanitation Campaign of Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan.

The scheme will be expanded to other districts after the outcome of the first phase is evaluated. In that case, the States will be asked to contribute 15 per cent of the cost. The scheme can also be transferred to the Ministries of Women and Child Development and Rural Development at a later stage for self-financing and self-sustaining that will reduce the budgetary support.