Supreme Court: In a petition filed by a social worker by raising important issues of public interest bearing on the need for sanitation and menstrual hygiene for females who are studying in school, the full bench of Dr. DY Chandrachud, C.J., PS Narasimha and J.B. Pardiwala, JJ. directed all the States and Union Territories to submit their menstrual hygiene management strategies and plans and to ensure that disposal mechanisms are available in school complexes for safe disposal of sanitary pads.
The Petitioner was seeking a direction to the respondents to ensure the provision of
(i) Free sanitary pads to every female child studying between classes 6 to 12;
(ii) A separate toilet for females in all government aided and residential schools.
(iii) Certain other consequential reliefs have been sought including the maintenance of toilets and the spread of awareness programmes.
The Supreme Court viewed 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 UTs to make adjustments, based on the prevailing conditions in their territories.
The Court directed all the States and Union Territories to submit their menstrual hygiene management strategies and plans which are being executed either with the help of funds provided by the Central Government or through their own funds to the Mission Steering Group of the National Health Mission within a period of four weeks.
Further, the Court directed Mission Steering Group to re-evaluate the national guidelines based on the experiential learning of the previous decade or so. For this purpose, the Court nominated the Secretary, Ministry of Health and Family Welfare as the nodal officer to facilitate coordination with all the other Ministries of the Union and with the State governments and the Union Territories.
The Court said that the States and Union Territories 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 for their respective territories. Further, all States and Union Territories shall also indicate the steps which have been taken to provide for the availability of low-cost sanitary pads and vending machines in schools and for appropriate disposal mechanisms.
Moreover, the Court directed all States and Union Territories to ensure that disposal mechanisms are available in schools/school complexes with enrolment of female students in upper primary, secondary and higher secondary classes for safe disposal of sanitary pads.
The matter will next be taken up on 24-07-2023
[Dr. Jaya Thakur v Government of India, 2023 SCC OnLine SC 433, decided on 10-04-2023]