GST impact on women: The country welcomed a new tax regime, Goods And Services Tax (GST) on the first of July. The tax reform that embodies the principle of “one nation, one tax, one market” concept, had its impact on various industries in India with four-tier GST structure with five, twelve, eighteen and twenty eight per cent tax rates. The launch has reportedly hit India’s largest red-light district – Sonagachi, located in Kolkata, which has suddenly turned a goods and services tax newsmaker. While GST came with zero per cent GST on condoms, which has been greetd by cheers, simultaneously it has brought concerns over the issue of sanitary napkins. The tax rate on sanitary napkins is now 12 pct, and this has caused the entities that used to supply napkins to Usha Multipurpose Co-operative Society Ltd may stop doing so. Usha Multipurpose is a cooperative bank run by sex workers and is the largest of its kind in India, as per a report by Indian Express. It has 30,222 members hailing from Sonagachi and other red-light areas of Bengal and provides sanitary napkins and condoms to thousands of sex workers at a subsidised rates.
Now, the finance manager of the bank, Santanu Chatterjee said that the companies which used to sell the products with special discounts to the bank have now refused and therefore the prices at which they used to sell the items to sex workers are now set to rise manifold. Dr Smarajit Jana who is the mentor of the Durbar Mahila Samanwaya Committee (one of the largest community-based organisations for sex workers) and the brain behind the bank was quoted by Indian Express as saying that it took years for them to convince sex workers to use sanitary napkins and now most of the poor sex workers have come to depend on them for sourcing the product.
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Women wanted sanitary napkins to become tax-free but that did not happen and they were eventually taxed at 12 per cent under the GST. According to Durbar members, most sex workers in Sonagachi – home to around 15,000 sex workers – and 28 other red-light areas in the state depend on such subsidised condoms and sanitary napkins. As per the reports, the bank used to procure one sanitary napkin at Rs 3.33 and sell it at 63 paisa. After GST, the bank will have to pay Rs 8 for one napkin. Thus this will increase the chances that sex workers will not use napkins, and thereby becoming more vulnerable to health hazards. A sex worker was quoted as saying, “Condoms are our lifeline, and it is good that there is no GST on them. But now, they are saying that napkin prices will go up. I don’t understand GST… but already, clients are less… some girls may not be keen on using napkins, and make do with cloth to save money.”
According to Bharati Dey, a former secretary of Durbar, only a handful of A-grade sex workers who charge over Rs 2,000 from clients do not need sanitary napkins from such banks. But others, category B sex workers, who charge around Rs 500 and category C, who charge between Rs 100 to Rs 200, use subsidised sanitary napkins. And therefore they will be hit the hardest.