The aromatic, long-grain basmati, the so-called “scented pearl” and “queen of all rice”, is in a legal tangle. Madhya Pradesh recently challenged in Madras High Court the February 5 order of the Chennai-based Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB) that approved Geographical Indications (GI) tag for basmati grown in Punjab, Uttarakhand, Himachal Pradesh, Haryana, J&K, Uttar Pradesh and Delhi, but not in MP. The court has issued notices and posted the matter for hearing in April.
So, what is the big deal about Geographical Indications?
The Geographical Indications of Goods, according to the Chennai-based GI Registry, “are defined as that aspect of industrial property which refer to the geographical indication referring to a country or to a place situated therein as being the country or place of origin of that product”. A GI label “conveys an assurance of quality and distinctiveness attributable (to the product’s) origin in that defined geographical locality, region or country”. A GI tag for agricultural, natural or manufactured goods commands a premium in the international market — e.g. Darjeeling tea, Kanchipuram silk sari and Kolhapuri chappal.
What is the dispute about basmati?
In 2008, when Agricultural and Processed Foods Export Development Authority (APEDA), a wing of the Union Commerce Ministry, moved the GI Registry for granting the tag to basmati grown in six districts, MP objected, staking claim to the tag. On October 31, 2013, the assistant registrar of the GI Registry ruled in MP’s favour. APEDA moved IPAB, the appellate body. On February 5, IPAB allowed APEDA’s appeal, but asked the GI Registry to consider MP’s claim afresh by giving both sides a reasonable opportunity to submit fresh evidence, and pass an order within six months.
On what grounds is APEDA opposing MP’s inclusion?
APEDA says MP is not situated in the Indo-Gangetic plain. It has called the assistant registrar’s order “erroneous”, and insisted that the evidence submitted by MP was based on improper verification, and illegible and unreadable documents. It has argued that the assistant registrar failed to distinguish between commercial cultivation, research and breeding activities, that temperature was not the sole determining factor, and that agri-climatic conditions were influenced by humidity, day-length, etc.
And on what grounds is Madhya Pradesh seeking a GI tag?
It has submitted gazetteers from British times to make the case that it has grown basmati for decades, and that climatic conditions in the state are as favourable as in other states. MP says the districts of Morena, Bhind, Gwalior, Sheopur, Datia, Shivpuri, Guna, Vidisha, Raisen, Sehore, Hoshangabad, Jabalpur and Narsingpur grow basmati. The oldest recorded reference to basmati, incidentally, is from 1766, in Waris Shah’s immortal Heer Ranjha — a claim made by basmati growers in Lahore on the basis of that reference was, however, rejected.
How big is the basmati export market?
In 2014-15, basmati exports were recorded at Rs 27,598 crores. Farmers are a huge constituency in MP, and it is not surprising that Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan has called the order “injustice”.