SC warns states, UTs of “coercive arm of law” if they fail to submit response on National Policy on Menstrual Hygiene

The Supreme Court Monday warned the states, which are yet to submit their response to the Centre on forming a uniform national policy on menstrual hygiene for girls studying in schools, it will take recourse to the “coercive arm of law” if they failed to do so by August 31.

The warning came after the Centre informed the apex court it has so far received the response of only four states.

A bench headed by Chief Justice D Y Chandrachud directed the states and Union Territories (UTs), which have failed to submit their responses, to do so positively by August 31.

“The states which are in default are placed on notice that should there be any further default, this court will be constrained to take recourse to the coercive arm of law,” said the bench, also comprising Justices J B Pardiwala and Manoj Misra.

Additional Solicitor General Aishwarya Bhati, appearing for the Centre, told the bench the central government has so far received inputs from only four states — Haryana, Delhi, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.

The apex court had on April 10 asked the Centre to prepare a Standard Operating Procedure (SOPs) and formulate a national model to be adopted by all states and UTs for managing menstrual hygiene of girls studying in schools.

Noting that the issue is of “immense importance”, the top court had said the Centre should engage with all stakeholders for implementing a uniform national policy on management of menstrual hygiene in schools, including government and government-aided schools.

It is seized of a plea which has sought direction to the Centre, states and UTs to ensure the provision of free sanitary pads to every female child studying between classes 6 to 12 and separate toilet for females in all government aided and residential schools.

During the hearing on Monday, Bhati told the bench the apex court had earlier given extensive directions to frame or update a national policy on menstural hygiene.

“Your lordships had directed the states to give their inputs to us within four weeks. Unfortunately, we got it only from four states,” she said, adding that rest of the states and UTs may be given a last opportunity to give their inputs to the Centre.

The bench noted that Bhati has stated that pursuant to the top court’s April 10 order, responses have been received by the Centre only from Delhi, Haryana, West Bengal and Uttar Pradesh.

“We direct all other states and UTs which have failed to submit their responses to do so positively by August 31, 2023,” it said, adding that a copy of its order be made available to the chief secretaries of the remaining states for compliance.

The bench has posted the matter for further hearing in the second week of November.

On April 10, the apex court had appointed the secretary of the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MOHFW) as the nodal officer to coordinate with the states and UTs and collect relevant data for formulating a national policy.

It had noted that MoHFW, Ministry of Education and Ministry of Jal Shakti have schemes on menstrual hygiene management.

“At the present stage, we are of the considered view that it would be appropriate if the Union government engages with all the state governments and Union Territories to ensure that a uniform national policy is formulated with sufficient leeway for the states and Union Territories to make adjustments, based on the prevailing conditions in their territories,” the top court had said.

It had directed that all states and UTs must

submit their menstrual hygiene management strategies and plans which are being executed either with the help of funds provided by the Centre or through their own resources to the Mission Steering Group of the National Health Mission within a period of four weeks.

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The apex court had said the states and UTs shall also indicate to the Mission Steering Group of the National Health Mission the appropriate ratio of female toilets for residential and non-residential schools in their respective territories.

It had asked all states and UTs to also indicate the steps which have been taken to provide low cost sanitary pads and vending machines in schools and their appropriate disposal.

In an affidavit filed earlier before the top court, the union health ministry had said it has undertaken awareness and training programmes and made necessary resources available to girls across the country.

The plea filed in the apex court has said adolescent females from poor background between the age of 11 and 18 years face serious difficulties in receiving education on account of lack of access to education, a constitutional right under Article 21A of the Constitution.

“These are adolescent females who are not equipped with and are also not educated by their parents about menstruation and menstrual hygiene.

“The deprived economic status and illiteracy lead to prevalence of unhygienic and unhealthy practices which have serious health consequences, increase obstinacy and lead to eventual dropping out from schools,” the plea said.

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