New Delhi: The Centre has informed the Supreme Court that while it is committed to enhancing the availability of menstrual hygiene facilities for young and adolescent girls, the responsibility of delivering healthcare services rests with the state governments as public health is a state matter.
In an affidavit submitted to the apex court, the Ministry of Health has stated that it has implemented awareness and training initiatives and allocated appropriate resources to benefit girls across the nation.
“It is submitted that public health is a state subject and the responsibility of providing healthcare services is that of respective state governments. The Central government and its agencies are not the implementing bodies for schemes relating to menstrual health, and it is in fact the states and their agencies which are at the forefront of enforcement of the policies,” the ministry said.
It submitted that the Central government is committed to improving menstrual hygiene for young and adolescent girls and to making necessary resources accessible to them.
The affidavit further mentioned that the government has approved more than Rs 197 crore for the year 2022-23 to states for implementing menstrual hygiene policies, Bar and Bench stated in its report.
The Health Ministry submitted the affidavit in reply to a PIL filed by Jaya Thakur, a Congress leader, urging the court to mandate the provision of free sanitary pads to girls in classes 6 to 12 studying in government schools nationwide.
The ministry acknowledged that menstrual practices and menstruation-related issues are clouded by cultural stigmas and restrictions in India, affecting both women and adolescent girls. These challenges are combined with inadequate access to safe sanitary facilities and sanitary hygiene products.
“Moreover, traditionally, there have been practices of using old clothes as pads by recycling them, use of ash or straw, which not affect menstrual hygiene but also have long term implications for reproductive health.
“The government is dedicated to increase awareness among adolescent girls on menstrual hygiene, build self-esteem and empower girls for better socialisation. The government is also working towards increasing access to and use of high quality sanitary napkins for girls in rural areas,” the ministry said.
Thakur in her plea said serious difficulties are faced by adolescent females between the ages of 11 and 18, years who come from poor backgrounds, in receiving education on account of lack of access to education, a constitutional right under Article 21A of the Constitution.
“These are adolescent females who are not equipped with and are also not educated by their parents about menstruation and menstrual hygiene. The deprived economic status and illiteracy leads to prevalence of unhygienic and unhealthy practices which has serious health consequences, increase obstinacy and leads to eventual dropping out from schools,” the plea said.
The plea, filed through advocate Varun Thakur, said to achieve gender equality, it is crucial that girls are able to actualize their educational potential.
Referring to a 2018 order of the Delhi High Court, the plea said it had mandated the Delhi government to provide free or subsidized access to menstrual hygiene products in schools and to make arrangements for education on menstruation and menstrual hygiene.
“The Government of India has deliberated for several years with regard to the inclusion of the right to education as a fundamental right. The Saikia Committee of 1997 had been appointed to examine the economic viability proposal as to whether the right to free elementary education up to 14 years of age could be made a fundamental right,” it said.
The plea said the Right to Education Act, 2009, was enacted and took effect from August 26, 2009, with the objective of providing free and compulsory education in the age group of six to 14 years.
“Prevalent myths about menstruation force millions of girls to drop out of school early or be ostracized for the duration of their menstrual cycle every month. They also affect the hiring of female workers, as it is felt that the menstruation hampers their productivity capabilities. Unfortunately, it continues to be treated as a taboo in many societies, shrouded in a culture of silence and shame,” the plea said.
In her plea, Thakur arrayed the Centre and all states as parties and appealed to the court to issue directives to them to ensure that all government, aided, and residential schools have separate toilets for girls.
Additionally, she requested the implementation of an awareness programme on menstrual health among the students and the appointment of at least one cleaner in each school to maintain the cleanliness of the toilets.