A YEAR after the Asmita scheme failed to garner a good response due to complaints of poor quality sanitary napkins, the rural department has floated new tenders. However, this time, the pads will be rolled out only after government officials try them and give their nod.
The scheme provides sanitary napkins at subsidised rates to rural girls and women. It was launched by Chief Minister Devendra Fadnavis and state Rural Development Minister Pankaja Munde in March last year.
For the past month, 16 female employees from Maharashtra State Rural Livelihood Mission, including its chief executive officer, have been using sanitary napkins designed by three bidders before finalising a single manufacturer.
“We learnt from our experience last year. There were several issues with the old napkins. They were small and their absorbency was low,” said CEO R Vimala, adding that the pads were launched without a pilot run. She said, “We decided to do a pilot (run) this time. So, we told all our female officials to try the pads. Of 16, at least four officials tried the pads and provided a feedback.”
The scheme covers adolescent girls aged between 11 and 19 years in zila parishad schools and rural women. A pack of eight pads is available at Rs 5 for schoolgirls and at Rs 24 for rural women. The state government pays a subsidy of Rs 15.20 on each packet for schoolgirls. The government followed Bureau of Indian Standards to fix requirements for sanitary napkins in 2018.
Across Maharashtra, 2.79 lakh Asmita cards have been made for schoolgirls, but only 21,000 of them bought subsidised sanitary napkins. Rural women complained that they had to change the pad every two hours and it was uncomfortable. In several parts of Gadchiroli, for instance, the sanitary napkins had not even reached the gram panchayat. The napkin was triple-fold and rural women are used to single fold.
Lipsa Sahoo, consultant with the state rural department, said she used the napkin after receiving complaints and found their soaking capacity was low. The napkin had only 30 ml capacity and just two sizes, 240 mm and 280 mm. In the revised tender, super-absorbent polymers (SAP) were made compulsory with a minimum size of 280 mm. Soaking capacity was doubled at 60 ml. Three bidders have applied for the scheme. “The new sanitary napkins from all three bidders have more absorption capacity. A woman will be able to wear it for four to five hours,” added Sahoo.
Priyanka Arun Sulke, assistant convergence, who was among the first to try the pads, said, “There was no hesitation in our office in testing them. Out of three, the gum pasting (on the pads) of one is poor.” The officials have also got a feedback form to fill after using the new sanitary napkins. Nandini Zujam, assistant monitoring and evaluation officer, said she wanted the napkins to be softer.
“We realised that every woman has different needs. But this pad serves a basic purpose, has no leakage and is comfortable,” she added. A bidder will be finalised and the scheme will be relaunched in a month. Officials are hopeful of maintaining a rate of Rs 15.20 as subsidy.According to Aseem Gupta, secretary, rural department, the market for sanitary napkins in Maharashtra is for 2 crore women, but only 34 to 35 lakh women use them.
The state government is subsidising napkins with an aim to promote the use of sanitary napkins and reduce the school dropout rate of adolescent girls. Dr Archana Gabhane, a pathologist based in Wadsa block of Gadchiroli, said while the scheme was well-intentioned, its implementation remained poor. “In some schools, Asmita cards are yet to arrive,” she said.