17 lakh girls affected as state government halts free pads scheme

Education Health Rural Karnataka Top Story Women

Bengaluru: The Karnataka government’s decision to halt funds to the Shuchi sanitary napkin distribution scheme in the 2020-21 budget has adversely affected students of rural schools and colleges.

P. Jagadani, a 15-year-old student at a government school in Gollahalli, Kumbalgodu, informed The Observer: “We have not received any pads for almost two years now. During the lockdown, I used homemade cotton pads. Now my mother buys them from a medical store.”

The Shuchi health scheme for menstrual hygiene was a Centre-sponsored scheme in 2013-14. In 2015, the state government adopted the scheme and spent Rs 49 crore on it every year. The scheme aimed to create awareness about menstrual hygiene, mainly for girls in rural areas. 

Yeshodamma A, the headmistress of the Gollahalli school, said: “We didn’t know the scheme was halted. We thought we did not receive any pads because schools were shut. Now it has been two months since the school has reopened, we will soon write a letter to the higher authorities to revive the scheme.”

Officials at the department of health and family welfare who did not want to be named said the scheme was allocated in the 2020-21 budget, but the finance department did not release any funds. The health department, short of money due to the pandemic, could not fund it.

Dr. Veena V, deputy director of the Rashtriya Bharat Swasthya Yojana and Shuchi scheme, said: “The scheme’s abrupt halt now affects more than 17 lakh school and college-going girls.”

K.S. Renuka, a lady health visitor and senior health assistant at the Gollahalli Public Health Centre (PHC), said: “There was zero supply of pads last year. Supply was irregular since 2018. Now a few high schools are buying pads using their own money.” 

In 2019, the distribution channel for the scheme was not planned. This led to the dumping of pads in PHCs. “Last year, we got only five packets. They had seven pads each,” said Vanamma M, a 16-year old student at the Gollahalli school.

As per the rules, a beneficiary should get a packet of 10 napkins every month. “Only 10 napkins should be provided every month as the beneficiary’s family might use it, leaving none for the girl,” Renuka said.

Dr. Veena added: “We distribute pads among PHCs; schools have to collect them from the PHCs. However, now we have proposed a plan which will transfer pads directly to the schools.”

An action plan for the 2021-22 Shuchi budget has been sent to the family and welfare department. “The Shuchi scheme has not been stopped; it has been paused. An action plan of Rs 47 crore has been planned for the scheme. The scheme intends to not only distribute free pads but also to create hygiene awareness and get women used to pads so they will not shift back to cloth,” Dr. Veena said.

Three-fourths of rural India survives on Rs 33 a day, according to data released by the Socio-Economic Caste Census survey in 2015. The average cost of sanitary napkins in India is Rs 88 for 10 pieces, which works out to Rs 1,056 annually. Buying sanitary napkins is still a luxury for rural women, leaving cloth as a substitute.

Pads are considered the most menstrual hygiene solution. Discontinuing the Shuchi scheme could leave young girls vulnerable to infections that can last all their life.

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