‘Sustainable sanitary products should be taxed differently’

The Goods and Services Tax (GST), which came into effect on July 1, has reignited the debate on whether tax should be levied on sanitary napkins. Under GST, 12% tax is imposed on sanitary products, including menstrual cups and cloth pads.

While women from across the country have been taking to social media and online platforms demanding that sanitary napkins be made tax-free, another group of women from the city has gone a step further and asked the government to differentiate between the “common” sanitary pad and the “environmentally sustainable” cloth pads and menstrual cups.

Under the banner of Green the Red Movement, these women have been spreading awareness on sustainable mensuration through sessions conducted in IT companies, schools, colleges and apartment complexes since March. “We have conducted a hundred such sessions in four months. Plastic-laden sanitary pads are harmful to the environment,” said Malini Parmer, one of the people behind the movement.

Meenakshi Bharat, a gynaecologist involved in the movement, said 90 tonnes of sanitary waste ends up in landfills every day. “We are far from finding a safe way to dispose of sanitary waste. In contrast, menstrual cups (made from medical grade silicon) and cloth pads (made of cotton with leak-proof lining) are reusable,” she said. “We are not saying don’t tax these products, but the slab should be lower for them than for the normal sanitary pads. While the menstrual cup can be used for eight to 10 years, the cloth pad can be used for two to three years. In the long run, the cost of these sustainable products is just a quarter of what is spent on pads.”

The women plan to continue with the sessions. “A lot of interest has been generated in it and the movement has spread pan-India today,” Dr. Bharat said.

Low acceptance

However, others argue that there isn’t enough acceptance for menstrual cups and cloth pads and it is therefore essential to make sanitary napkins more affordable. “Menstrual cups have to be inserted, which many women might not like. Tampons for instance have never been advertised extensively and are used by too few women. And cloth pads have a stigma attached to them, which will be difficult to get rid of,” said Dilip Kumar Pattubala, founder of Sukhibhava, a social enterprise that has been working with over 15,000 poor urban women to educate them about menstrual hygiene.

Saying that 75% of urban women do not have access to menstrual products in the city, Mr. Pattubala said the first step should be introduce menstrual hygiene through sanitary napkins. Talk on sustainable practices can come later. “For women who have never used any menstrual product, using a menstrual cup can be a big leap,” he said.

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Printable version | Feb 21, 2020 12:45:07 PM |

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