The central government’s focus has largely been on creating awareness. Between 2012-15, a Central pilot scheme was run in 160 districts of the country under which the Health Ministry procured sanitary napkins and sold a packet of six pads for Rs 6 in states. “The decision to sell the napkins instead of giving them free was taken because it was felt that unless the girls actually paid for them, no matter how little the amount, the girls would never use them. We were focusing on changing habits,” says a senior Health Ministry official.
The napkins were initially procured at Rs 1.25 per piece, with the price finally going up to Rs 1.30.
Eventually, however, patchy supplies and procurement issues sounded the death knell for the scheme. States told the Centre that a menstrual hygiene scheme where the supply of sanitary napkins sometimes comes after a gap of three months is “self-defeating”, the official said.
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A decision was then taken to leave the tendering and procurement process to states and to give them money based on the number of girls/women they intended to cover. The price at the point of sale was retained — Rs 6 for a pack of six. States which join the scheme for the first time are given Rs 2 per napkin and those that already have a scheme running are paid Rs 1.33.
Last year, Rs 40 crore was spent on giving sanitary napkins in 18 states.
About Madhya Pradesh, a Health Ministry source said, “They do not take any money from us. I cannot say why and at which level that decision was taken. So, the NFHS findings are not surprising. As for GST, it should technically help in promoting use of sanitary napkins because if the cost goes down from Rs 18 to Rs 14, it is good. But then again, one who can’t spend Rs 18 may not be able to spend Rs 14 either.”