Women in India are enraged. Well, for several reasons, but at the moment, it is sanitary pads (SPs). Period pain is one thing. But, pain of bearing a higher burden of expenses every month on this most essential item in every woman’s closet is under debate.
So, what’s going on here? Under the new tax regime, meant to make things simpler for everybody, items/services were clubbed under five different tax slabs and taxed more or less like they used to be before. Amongst the new tax bands- 0%, 5%, 12%, 18% and 28%, sanitary napkins were put under the 12% bracket in the July meeting.
While, the government has justified the new tax bracket under which SPs are clubbed, domestic manufacturers have an opportunity to find the more affordable alternatives.
A regular no frill napkin is priced between Rs. 4 – 11 a piece, adding to the monthly bill close to Rs. 50 –132 per period cycle. For a city woman, this may be paltry, but for girls/women in 70% of India, this could cause much grief.
In India, as per the last census, of 34 crore females of menstruating age, 71% lived in rural areas. And that’s quite large a population to be ignored.
Government says they cannot make the 12% tax on sanitary pads go away. It hurts the manufacturer as the raw materials used in making a pad such as polymer, glue, poly ethylene film, is taxed between 12- 18%. So, a zero or lesser tax, would hurt the interests of domestic manufacturers as they would lose out on the input tax credit. That means, the tax they pay on the purchase of raw materials would not be set off against the tax payable on the final product. So, a higher tax burden. Another justification for a higher tax is, that before GST, sanitary napkins were taxed at effectively 13.7% (6% – Excise and 5% Vat), so its pretty much status quo post GST as well. While for manufacturers and states, there’s hardly any loss of revenue, it doesn’t do anything for the end-consumers. Women who found it expensive then, find SPs unaffordable even now. As per the latest NHFS survey, only 48.2% of rural females age between 15-24 years use hygienic methods of protection during their periods. This percentage is much higher among the urban females, 77.5%. And country as a whole fair pretty dismally.
There’s a case for domestic manufacturers to find affordable and healthier solutions to reach this market, which if covered, would greatly benefit the well-being of our women and as a customer base, it is waiting to be tapped.
The map below shows the share of rural females between the age 10-50 years by districts. Out of 640 districts recognised by Census, there are just 12 such, that have zero presence of rural females. And nearly 300, which have close to 80-100% share of the targeted group.
(Click on the top left to view the color indexing done on the basis of % of rural females in each district.)