As audiences await social entrepreneur Arunachalam Muruganantham's story told in Akshay Kumar's upcoming flick Pad Man, a Dakshin Kannada based gram panchayat hopes to take lessons from the successful business model. The Laila gram panchayat led Self Help Group (SHG) 'Isiri' which, in 2011, manufactured low cost sanitary napkins, had to abruptly shut down in 2015, after facing stiff competition from commercial sanitary pad manufacturers. Despite ‘Isiri’ keeping the cost as low as Rs. 12 per pack, the SHG failed to boost its sales.
According to Prakash Shetty, the Panchayat Development Officer (PDO), the Gram Panchayat was keen on reviving the sanitary manufacturing unit. "We have heard of Arunachalam's breakthrough in manufacturing good quality sanitary pads economically. We want our team to witness the demonstration of the machine. Study the differences and understand the raw materials required. We will definitely procure it if the process is cost effective and the pads are better than our earlier version,”Shetty said.
In 2011, under the menstrual hygiene awareness drive initiative by Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA), the SHG bagged orders to supply sanitary napkins each month to high schools in Dakshina Kannada. Marketed under the name 'Safety-feel free', the low-cost sanitary manufacturers were projected to sell over 10,000 pads to students at Rs. 12 for a pack of 5. The unit of 10 women trained at Periyapatna in Mysore district, manufactured around 450 pieces a day. The earlier manufacturing unit was procured from Coimbatore, the PDO recollects.
The Laila gram panchayat had even raised funds worth of Rs. 7.33 lakh, of which Rs. 4.33 lakh was provided by National Bank for Agriculture and Rural Development (NABARD).The gram panchayat had also installed pad vending machines at schools, along with incinerators in certain buildings.
Besides local hostels and hospitals, the unit was also in talks with schools in Maharashtra.
However, barely two years later, the unit shut down completely, due to maintenance issues and dwindling of orders, Shetty said.
"We faced competition from leading brands. We could offer only the basic pads made of cotton and wood pulp, not even the chemically embedded pads, as we had to keep the cost low," Panchayat Development Officer (PDO) of Laila village, Prakash Shetty said.
The gram panchayat members say that it would like to draw employment for the sanitary manufacturing under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee (MGNREGA) scheme. "Besides benefiting the women, it promotes the maintenance of hygiene and sanitation in the village. We can definitely give this new equipment a chance to perform and also generate local employment," Prakash said.
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