New Delhi: The Modi government is planning to launch a Rs 12,000 crore scheme to ensure access to sanitary napkins across India, pegged on its popular Re 1/pad Suvidha brand, ThePrint has learnt.
The development was confirmed by two senior officers in the Ministry of Chemicals & Fertilizers. The ministry oversees the Department of Pharmaceuticals, the nodal agency for the PM Bhartiya Janaushadhi Pariyojana (PM-BJP), under which the Suvidha pads are sold.
The plan follows this year’s 15 August address by PM Narendra Modi, which marked the first time an Indian premier talked about menstrual health in their Independence Day speech. In his address, Modi had referred to the Suvidha initiative as one of the highlights of his government’s efforts towards women’s healthcare and empowerment.
The Suvidha brand, introduced with a price of Rs 2.5 in 2018 but available at Re 1/piece since August last year, is sold at the Janaushadhi stores set up by the government under the PM-BJP, which aims to bolster access to affordable generic medicines. The pads are oxo-biodegradable, which means they break down into “tiny pieces in the presence of oxygen and may then slowly biodegrade”.
The original cost of production of each pad is estimated at Rs 2.50.
“Considering the popularity of the brand and vision of PM Modi, we have now planned to extend the scheme and, soon, will hold inter-ministerial discussions to prepare a draft,” one of the aforementioned government officers said.
“The monthly usage of sanitary napkins in India stands at 500 crore units. Based on the actual cost of production of each pad, the cost of the project would be around Rs 12,000 crore per annum,” the officer added.
Corporates may be involved
Over the past two weeks, the officer said, Minister of State for Chemical and Fertilizers Mansukh Mandaviya and P.D. Vaghela, secretary, Department of Pharmaceuticals (DoP), have held a slew of meetings that involved “initial rounds” of discussions on the scheme.
According to the officer, preliminary discussions included suggestions that high net worth individuals (HNIs) and corporates be asked to adopt villages and help with the distribution of sanitary napkins to under-privileged women across India.
“The scheme, which is still under discussion, is likely to involve corporates who can adopt villages or districts as part of their corporate social responsibility (CSR). We plan to open the scheme for adoption for anyone, including HNIs and corporations,” the official added. “The government will help them in supplying these pads with an objective of achieving universal access to sanitary napkins.”
Another suggestion under discussion is merging other state and central schemes on menstrual hygiene — like the 2011 Menstrual Hygiene Scheme that aims at building awareness — under the “Suvidha umbrella”.
“It’s a proven product with very high demand whereas other schemes are yet to make a mark,” the officer said, adding that an inter-ministerial panel comprising Health Minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, Environment Minister Prakash Javadekar, and Mandaviya, will now be formed to discuss the scheme.
The officer said there are several issues that need to be discussed before the scheme can move forward.
“The government needs to figure out the best distribution mechanism of napkins across India. Here, we have to think about rural, remote areas where distribution channels are minimal,” the officer added.
Women from rural areas, the officer said, may need someone to encourage them to adopt these pads, besides guidance on how to use and dispose them of. “Moreover, we need to find an effective disposal mechanism to ensure no harm is being caused to the environment,” the officer added.
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