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A bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C. Hari Shankar sought responses from the Ministry and the Goods and Services Tax Council by November 15 on the public interest litigation and also asked the petitioner to prepare and supply a brief note on the representations made to the Centre.
Petitioner Zarmina Israr Khan, PhD scholar in African studies at the Jawaharlal Nehru University here, said the discriminatory and illegal treatment was being meted out to women by an "unconstitutional and illegal imposition of 12 per cent tax" on sanitary napkins.
The GST, which came into force across the country on July 1, is a unified indirect tax system on various goods and services.
Khan's lawyer Amit George told the bench that 12 per cent tax makes no distinction between high- and low-cost sanitary napkins.
"This is quite opposed to the differential treatment given to various goods, such as footwear, on the basis of their retail sale price. Sanitary napkins are essential for a woman's right to live with dignity and freedom, and for the protection of her overall health," argued George, seeking that the imposition of 12 per cent tax on sanitary napkins be quashed.
The petitioner pleaded for nil tax, or a reduced one, pointing out that there are certain items exempted under the GST system so as not to burden consumers, including "makeup items, plastic and glass bangles, hearing aids, bags, and material used in religious rituals, and contraceptives".
Sanitary napkins have been grouped with toys, leather goods, roasted coffee, mobile phones, and processed foods -- all attracting 12 per cent tax.
The plea said imposition of high tax, which is prima facie "unconstitutional, illegal and arbitrary", has witnessed strong dissent and invoked calls for corrective action from individuals and organisations across the country.
The petitioner said there were an estimated 355 million menstruating women in India, with a vast majority still facing significant barriers to a comfortable and dignified experience with menstrual hygiene management.
"It is estimated that approximately 88 per cent of menstruating women in India have no access to sanitary napkins... the root cause of approximately 70 per cent of all reproductive diseases in India is poor menstrual hygiene," the petition noted.
"Commercially manufactured sanitary napkins are expensive for low-income users, and low-cost pads vary in reach and quality... various studies and surveys with adolescent girls and women in urban and rural India have indicated high cost as the primary reason for non-use of sanitary pads," the petitioner told the court.