If Bindi, sindoor and kajal are kept out of the ambit of the GST, why can't sanitary napkins, an essential item, be exempted, the Delhi High Court asked the Centre on Wednesday.
A Bench of Acting Chief Justice Gita Mittal and Justice C Hari Shankar said sanitary napkins are a necessity and there cannot be any explanation for taxing them and exempting other items by bringing them in the category of items of necessity.
"You exempt Bindi, kajal and sindoor. But you tax sanitary napkins. It's such a necessity. Is there any explanation for it," the Bench asked. The court also expressed unhappiness over absence of any women in 31-member Goods and Services Tax (GST) Council.
"Have you discussed it with the Ministry of Women and Child Development before doing it or have you just looked at the import and export duty. This has to be done while keeping in view the larger concern," it said and listed the matter for December 14.
The court was hearing a petition filed by Zarmina Israr Khan, who is a PhD scholar in African studies at Jawaharlal Nehru University, challenging the levying of 12% GST on sanitary napkins. The plea has termed it illegal and unconstitutional.
Central government standing counsel Sanjeev Narula said if they exempt sanitary napkins from tax, the cost of the product will go up.
"Reducing the GST rate on sanitary napkins to nil, will result in complete denial of input tax credit to domestic manufacturers of sanitary napkins, while zero rating imports. This will make domestically manufactured sanitary napkins at a huge disadvantage vis-a-vis imports, which will be zero rated," the counter affidavit, filed by the Centre, said.
To this, the Bench said these are technical and statistical reasons and the government was playing with figures. The Centre's affidavit said as raw materials for manufacture of sanitary napkins attract GST of 18 or 12%, even with 12% GST on sanitary napkins, there is an inversion in the GST rate structure.
It said that the tax rate was neither arbitrary, nor violative of any of the constitutional guarantees espoused in the Constitution, as the procedure followed meet the constitutional tests laid down by the apex court through various pronouncements.
The court had earlier sought responses of the Finance Ministry and the GST Council on the petition. The petitioner has claimed that the petition has been filed for the benefit of women in general, particularly those belonging to the lower economic strata of the society.
The plea sought quashing of the imposition of 12% GST on sanitary napkins, and declaring them to be liable to a 'nil' rate or a reduced rate.