The Supreme Court mandated that the Central government implement a uniform national policy on menstrual hygiene, which included providing free pads to students.
A bench consisting of the Chief Justice of India, DY Chandrachud, and Justices PS Narasimha and JB Pardiwala also requested information from the states and union territories regarding the availability of girl’s restrooms in schools and the availability of sanitary napkins in classrooms.
“Union should engage with all states to see that a uniform national policy is implemented so that states can implement the same with adjustments. Bearing in mind the importance of issue raised, we direct all states and UTs must submit to the Secretary, Health Ministry their menstrual hygiene policies being carried from their own funds within four weeks,” the Court ordered.
Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati informed the Bench that the Centre can introduce a common model, if states provide details on existing policies.
The plea seeks directions to the Centre, states and UTs to provide free sanitary pads to every girl child studying in classes 6 to 12, and provisions of girls’ toilets in government and residential schools.
The Court directed the Mission Steering Group formed by the Union Health Ministry to re-evaluate the national guidelines and also nominated the Secretary of the Health Ministry to facilitate the process.
“States and UTs will also indicate to the Mission Steering Group the ratio of girls’ toilets in residential and non-residential schools. States, UTs to show cost incurred for sanitary pads, sanitary pad vending machine…and ensure disposal mechanism is available for schools where girls are enrolled in higher secondary and secondary classes,” the Court directed.
On April 1, the Central government informed the Court that it is for the states to implement the existing policies.
The submission was made in a common affidavit filed by the Ministry of Health, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Jal Shakti in response to a plea seeking free sanitary napkins for adolescent girls in every school as well as separate girls’ washrooms in all government, aided and residential schools.
According to the argument put forth by attorney Varinder Kumar Sharma, lack of menstrual hygiene management options is a significant impediment to education, with many girls quitting school as a result of lack of access to latrines, menstrual products, and the stigma surrounding menstruation.
The difficulties these girls face have been compounded by the fact that several educational institutions lack basic toilet facilities, the plea also said.