In September, Madhuri Panchabai, member of a self-help group in Tulshi village, east of Gadchiroli, got the first stock of long-awaited sanitary napkins for girls and women in the village. The excitement soon dwindled after the women realised the sanitary napkins needed replacement within a few hours, was of poor quality and uncomfortable to use. The village got 180 packets. So far, Panchabai has distributed only 10. The rest remain locked up in their office.
The Asmita scheme, launched by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and Rural Development Minister Pankaja Munde in March this year to provide subsidised sanitary napkins, remains a poor starter — with most villages yet to receive the supply of pads through self-help groups; in a few villages where they did, women and girls have refused to use them.
Officials said complaints have also come from Aurangabad, Pune and Amravati over poor quality of sanitary napkins. The Maharashtra government has accepted quotations of three manufacturers — two in Pune and one in Nagpur — to supply sanitary napkins in villages. “We have issued showcause notice to two of them after complaints emerged,” said Aseem Gupta, Secretary, Rural Development department.
“I used the pads myself and realised our old cotton cloth is better,” says Panchabai. The self-help group complained to Wadsa panchayat committee, Gadchiroli, which is yet to forward the complaint to the district officer.
Even as she has an Asmita card, a frail Jagruti Mohan Dunedar (16) continues to avoid school when she starts menstruating. “I tried the pad they gave us, it was very uncomfortable,” she says. In her last periods, she switched back to an old cotton cloth her mother stitched in rectangular pieces for her. “We wash and reuse it for three months,” Megha (36), her mother, says, adding, “I have three daughters. I can’t afford to buy sanitary pads from the store. The store is also far away from our village.”
In the same village, Chaitanya Netaji Dunedar (14), a Class VIII student of Tulshi zilla parishad school, says at first girls were excited when Asmita cards were handed to them. But since two months, Chaitanya and her friends continue to wait for the first stock to arrive. “School teacher says she does not know who will hand over the pads to us.”
Her mother Vijaya Dunedar said, “I have to buy seven pads for Rs 40 for her because these are her initial periods. Eventually we won’t be able to buy every time.”
The Asmita scheme covers adolescent girls aged 11-19 in zilla parishad schools and rural women. While schoolgirls can buy a packet of eight pads for Rs 5, rural women will have to buy it for Rs 24. The Maharashtra government will pay a subsidy of Rs 15.20 on each packet for the schoolgirls.
Data shows while there is an order for over 10,000 packets across 351 talukas, only 5,400 have been delivered. The beneficiary pool is estimated to be over 4 lakh, of which so far 2.15 lakh girls have received Asmita cards.
In Kurud zilla parishad school, teacher Femida Khan applied for Asmita cards for over 150 girls from Class VI to XII in the last academic year. “The Asmita cards came this September, but we have no intimation about sanitary napkins. We asked the panchayat committee who seemed equally clueless.”
According to Dr Archana Gabhane, a pathologist based in the Wadsa block of Gadchiroli, in a session on menstrual hygiene several girls complained of not even getting Asmita cards. “The implementation seems poor. In some schools, Asmita cards have been distributed but no sanitary napkins stock has come. Some schools are yet to even get cards,” Khan said.
“The market is for 2 crore women, but only 34-35 lakh women use pads. The state government is providing subsidy to promote the use of sanitary napkins. We hope the prices will reduce by 25 per cent when the market grows,” Gupta added.
With complaints pouring in, the rural development department is also mulling over choosing a pad with more super-absorbent polymers (SAP) content to increase its absorption capacity. It also plans to invite fresh bids for single-fold pads to further lower the price range. “We gave instruction to all districts to send samples if there are complaints with quality. These samples will be tested in laboratory,” an official in-charge of Asmita scheme told The Indian Express.