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Explained: Why MP’s push for inclusion into the GI list of Basmati can hurt India globally

India stands tall in the global arena as the only producer of premium Basmati. No other country (other than 18 districts of Pakistan) can call any of its rice as ‘Basmati’.

Written by Anju Agnihotri Chaba | Jalandhar |
Updated: July 19, 2020 11:43:18 am
basmati, basmati rice, Geographical Indication tag, Geographical Indication tag for basmati, madhya pradesh basmati, indian express Basmati rice at Punjab’s Khanna mandi. (Express Photo: Jasbir Malhi)

Following Madhya Pradesh (MP) government’s pressure on the central government for seeking Geographical Indication (GI) tag for Basmati produced in 13 districts of MP, the All India Rice Exporters’ Association (AIREA) has appealed to the government to preserve and protect the integrity of one of the most cherished national produce of India — Basmati rice.

India stands tall in the global arena as the only producer of premium Basmati. No other country (other than 18 districts of Pakistan) can call any of its rice as ‘Basmati’. AIREA argues that if MP is included in the GI list of Basmati crop then it will not only harm the reputation of Indian Basmati as a whole, but also the national interest. The Indian Express explains what MP’s demand really means:

What is GI?

According to the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA), it is an agricultural, natural or a manufactured product, originating from a specific geographical area due to which it possesses unique characteristics and qualities. GI tag is basically an assurance that the product is coming from that specific area. It’s kind of trademark in the international market.

When was Basmati brought under GI tag and which is the area where GI tag is applicable to the Basmati?

In May 2010, APEDA, a statutory body under the Ministry of Commerce, got this certification for the region located in Indo-Gangetic Plains (IGP) below the foothills of the Himalayas, spread across seven states — Himachal Pradesh, J&K, Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand, Western UP (26 districts) and Delhi.

According to APEDA, the origin and reputation of Basmati rice as a ‘long grain, aromatic rice’ from the IGP is found in tradition, folklore, scientific and culinary literature and political and historical records. They said Dehraduni Basmati, Amritsar Basmati and Tarawari basmati all have not become famous in one day as they are producing Basmati for hundreds of years.

When MP does not fall in IGP, then why does it want its rice to be included under the GI list?

MP falls in the Madhya Bharat Pathar and started cultivation of varieties of Basmati rice only around the middle of the first decade of this century. The state claims that this rice possesses the same characteristics and qualities as that of the rice grown in the IGP. It also claims that nearly 80,000 farmers of the state are growing Basmati in 13 districts and exporting worth Rs 3,000 crore annually.

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Why MP cannot be included in GI Tag?

AIREA said that under WTO’s TRIPs (trade-related aspects of intellectual property rights) agreement, physical attributes are not enough for a product to earn GI tag and that reputation linked to the geographical region is essential and imperative. As per GI of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act in 2003, ‘reputation’ to a geographical area is central to the recognition of a GI product and only seven states have that reputation. Even if the rice grown in MP has all the required characteristics (or maybe even better than Basmati rice grown in the traditional growing areas), the same would not still entitle such rice to qualify as Basmati. Just like sparkling wine produced in Australia or California or Italy cannot be called Champagne and Kancheepuram Silk Sari is a GI product, but a Banarsi sari cannot claim a share of the status though it might be as beautiful as the Kancheepuram Sari. Same goes with Basmati and any rice which is grown outside the designated area cannot be called Basmati.

What efforts are being undertaken by the MP to grab the GI tag?

Apart from putting pressure on the Centre, MP has appealed in Madras High Court where its plea was rejected in February this year. Earlier too in 2016, Intellectual Properties Appellate Board (IPBA) in Chennai had given the decision in favour of the APEDA, which is not in favour of including MP in the GI list. Despite these orders, MP has been repeatedly agitating and raising banter through political and bureaucratic channels, and even many traders from MP are selling the rice from MP using the IGP imagery on their packages – through MP is far away down south of the IGP, said AIREA.

Why the inclusion of MP in the GI list will harm national interest and the interests of seven states which grow Basmati with GI tag?

Exporters say that with the inclusion of MP, the ramifications will be disastrous. It had been a tough battle for the country to protect Basmati name from the encroachment of various nations which all came out with their own versions of Basmati. It was only the GI tag that has protected our Basmati, because it has been grown from time immemorial in the IGP area of India and 18 districts of Pakistan’s Punjab, said Nathi Ram Gupta, President, AIREA, adding that this indisputable fact alone has enabled India to win the cases across globe.

“If MP is allowed to be included, it will nullify APEDA’s efforts made earlier to secure and protect Indian Basmati since 1995 by taking up over a 1,000 legal actions in nearly 50 countries, spread across all the continents. APEDA has spent over Rs 200/300 crores in promoting Basmati rice, defending its GI status and shaping it into a global brand,” said Vijay Setia, the former President AIREA.

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“The day we give a green signal to MP, Pakistan will grab the opportunity to start sowing Basmati all across the country. China will be equally benefitted. Not to talk about all those 50 and more nations who had been unequivocally restricted from calling any of their aromatic rice’s with even “Basmati-like” names,” said senior officials at APEDA.

“If Basmati loses its premium tag it will deprive over 20 lakh farmers of seven states from the economic premium of growing this unique product. So, the commercial considerations cannot, therefore, be allowed to be sacrificed at the altar of expanding the area of GI,” said a senior APEDA official.

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