A geographical indication works as an indicator that allows producers in those areas to distinguish their goods from the goods of their competitors and maintain a reputation and goodwill around their products in order to attract a premium price.
Registering a geographical indication in India involves:
• identifying protected characteristics;
• establishing effective representation and protection for stakeholders; and
• ensuring that the benefits of the registration reach the people involved in producing the goods.
The story of Basmati rice
Basmati rice (Oryza sativa) means Basmati raw milled rice; parboiled rice and husked and unpolished Basmati rice. More details regarding the varieties, feature of each varieties, districts where and how it is produced can be had from here.
We have heard much about the attempts in foreign lands to hijack the GI of Basmati variety rice, and our Indian government has spent crores to defend this. All of a sudden our crew grew curious to find out what is story of Basmati in India. To everyone’s surprise, the GI application for Basmati rice was initially refused, predominantly due to formality and compliance issues such as failure to attending hearings, etc.
The initial application was filed by a society named “The Heritage”, a non-profit organisation, which claimed to be the only organisation working on getting the GI status for Basmati. It is quite apparent from the application that the NGO was established around 2004 and the GI application was filed in 2004.
Details of Initial Application
Application No. 14
Applicant Name and Address: M/s. Heritage, Shop No. 127, New Anaj Mandi, Tarorari, District Karnal – 132116, Haryana, India.
Why the application was refused
The application had seen through several rounds of show-cause hearings and adjournments after eventually being refused due to the grounds given below. It is also interesting to note that the application was amended in 2007.
Specific Grounds of Refusal
• The Heritage is a society formed by only farmers, traders, commission agents and millers of Karnal District of the Haryana State and registered under the Society Registration Act, 1860 having registered office at Tarorari.
• Basmati Rice is being produced in at least six states of lndia, and the society clearly doesn’t adequately represent the interest of all the producers in the other area other than Karnal District of Haryana. The Applicant states that the activity of the Society will be expanded to the other Basmati Rice producing areas after getting registration of Gl which is not admissible as right of the Applicants are being decided on the date of Application.
• The Learned Advocate of the Applicant argued that they are only organization in India as of today working for the case of GI registration of Basmati Rice. But they have not filed any documentary evidence in support of the same.
• The Learned Advocate of the Applicant further argued that PUSA variety and other varities are largely produced in the District of Karnal and the present applicant Society is rightful owner of the Basmati Rice GI which contention is not correct because Basmati Rice is being produced in at least in six states of India as per the admissions of the applicant himself.
• At the time of Show cause hearing fixed on-April 03, 2008 at Chennai vide office letter dated January 24, 2008, the Applicant had requested the Registrar of GI vide letter dated 21st February 2008 for adjournment or Hearing on the ground that the applicant do not have sufficient funds to attend the hearing for travel of counsel from Karnal to Chennai and requested to fix the hearing at Delhi’ which is prima facie evidence that the producers are not capable to protect the interest of Basmati Rice Producers in the GI area which has spread across six states of India.
What happened after that?
Basmati is also being produced in several parts of Pakistan who asserts equal rights over the GI. Due to this both countries decided to embark on a joint registration. However, later Pakistan declined to participate in the application. On the other hand, Pakistan’s Trademarks Registry accepted the application of the Lahore-based Basmati Growers Association to register BASMATI as a geographical indication and trademark. Because there is no Geographical Indications Act in Pakistan, BASMATI cannot be protected there as a geographical indication and India has already filed an appeal against its registration as a trademark. In order to protect a geographical indication under the Geographical Indications Act, it must be registered. According to Section 20 of the act, no one can institute proceedings to prevent or recover damages for infringement of an unregistered geographical indication.
Not too in the distant past, the Indian government appointed the Agricultural and Processed Food Product Export Development Authority (APEDA) to take India’s registration process forward. APEDA promotes the export of agricultural and associated products. An ordinance shall be promulgated to effect an amendment to the APEDA Act which will allow the protection procedure to be initiated in India and abroad. Once it has filed and obtained registration in the Geographical Indications Registry in Chennai, the government will commence action to register BASMATI in all major global export markets.
Basmati has become an indispensable ingredient in many households and is being widely used in myriad of rice-based dishes such as Biriyani, Chinese rice varieties, etc. We will have to wait and see the fate of Basmati.