The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has told the Bombay High Court that a decision to declare sanitary napkins as an essential commodity can be taken only after following the due process, and understanding the current market scenario and demand and supply gap.
The central government filed an affidavit in the high court earlier this week in response to a petition seeking a direction to the government to declare sanitary napkins as an essential commodity and supply them on par with other essential commodities to all the poor and needy women amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
The petition, filed by two law students Nikita Gore and Vaishnavi Gholave, alleged that the Centre and the state government were not implementing effective menstrual hygiene management resulting in women, particularly adolescent girls, facing barriers.
The Union government in its affidavit said the decision to include sanitary napkins in the schedule (list) of essential commodities must be taken after understanding the current market scenario, the demand supply gap and also keeping in mind various options of brands, quality, costing and preferences of the beneficiaries.
“The decision can be taken after a due consultative process under the Ministry of Consumer Affairs ensuring involvement of all stakeholders,” the affidavit said.
The Union government further said it has issued a guidance note on provision of Reproductive, Maternal, Newborn, Child, Adolescent Health Plus Nutrition (RMNCAH+N) services during and post the COVID-19 pandemic.
The note enables delivery of essential health services to women, girls and children during the COVID-19 outbreak.
It further said the Union government has been implementing the Scheme for Promotion of Menstrual Hygiene among adolescent girls since 2011.
The Union government said since public health and hospitals is a state subject, the primary responsibility of providing health care services is that of the state government. However, under the National Health Mission, support is provided to the states to strength their health care systems, including procurement of items and drugs based on proposals received from the states, the affidavit said.
Since 2015-16, the procurement of sanitary napkins is being supported by the National Health Mission through the State Programme Implementation Plan route, it added.
A division bench headed by Chief Justice Dipankar Datta is likely to take up the petition for hearing next week.
As per the plea, in view of the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak and subsequent lockdown, a large number of migrants, daily wage labourers and poor persons are suffering. These include children, adolescent girls and women.
While the Centre and state government were helping these persons with essential food items, they have failed to take care of girls and women by not providing menstrual hygiene items like sanitary napkins and other medical facilities, the petition said.
The petition urged the court to direct the government and other authorities to ensure availability of free sanitary napkins, toilet, and medical facilities to all the poor and needy women during the lockdown period.
The petition sought supply and distribution of sanitary napkins under the Public Distribution System, on par with other essential commodities, to the needy persons, if not free then at an affordable and reasonable price.