When Sushmita Dev, Congress MP from Silchar, Assam, started the change.org petition ‘Tax Free Wings’, she didn’t expect to receive the overwhelming response that she did. The petition which aims to make sanitary pads tax-free has over three lakh signatures, which Sushmita recently submitted to Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley.
Sushmita, along with representatives from Youth Ki Awaaz and Change.org, and Director of Center for Social Research, Ranjana Kumari, met the Finance Minister on Tuesday. The MP told TNM that not only did he give them a “patient hearing” but also didn’t seem averse to the idea.
“He told us that many NGOs and activists had also written to him about the issue. His major concern, however, was the loss that the exchequer would incur if the tax on commercially produced sanitary pads was to be reduced or the tax on environment-friendly ones to be abolished,” Sushmita said.
She points out however, that it is already happening in some places like Delhi and Maharashtra. In Delhi, the AAP government had announced on International Women’s Day that sanitary pads costing over Rs 20 will have only 5% tax instead of 12.5%. In Maharashtra too, the government plans to subsidise sanitary pads in order to make them more affordable.
Jaitley asked Sushmita and team whether they had an estimate about the loss which would be incurred to the exchequer if this were to happen in states across India. “Unfortunately, we did not have that figure. Then Mr Jaitley told us himself that most people who had written to him said only about 12% women use commercial sanitary pads, so he doesn’t suspect the hit to the exchequer to be massive,” Sushmita said.
He also advised Sushmita to speak to state Finance Ministers about the issue, as they are also a part of the GST Council. “I have already written to many of them and some have replied. I told Mr Jaitley that if they subsidise the pads centrally, it will take the burden off the state exchequer and I think he understood that,” she said.
The conversation also turned to the National Policy for Women which is still in its draft stage. “He said sanitary towels were definitely on the agenda for the formulation of the policy,” Sushmita said.
Jaitley urged Sushmita to meet with the other Ministers who were part of the panel formulating the final National Policy for Women. Sushmita replied saying that she had already met Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi and was seeking an appointment with External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj.
Overall, Sushmita observes that Jaitley was not dismissive at all: “He said that he was not at all averse to it and said he would do all he could from his side.”
She adds that Health Minister JP Nadda also seemed on board with the idea and told Sushmita and team that he would also recommend the tax exemption be implemented for sanitary towels.
“I think there is a good possibility it might materialise. Lets see how it goes,” Sushmita says enthusiastically.