The tussle over Madhya Pradesh’s seeking geographical indication (GI) certification for basmati paddy grown in the state has taken a new turn. A committee of agricultural scientists has been set up under R R Hanchinal, a former chairperson of the Protection of Plant Varieties & Farmers’ Rights Authority, to study the claims of Madhya Pradesh and make appropriate recommendations.
This is the second such committee set up by the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) within three months, on an issue that has taken on political overtones with elections to the MP Assembly slated in November-December.
The earlier panel, constituted in April, was headed by Punjab Agricultural University Vice-Chancellor B S Dhillon, and included basmati breeders such as V P Singh (developer of the blockbuster Pusa-1121 variety), DVS Panwar (HBC-19 or Taraori basmati), B Mishra (CSR-30) and A K Singh (Pusa-1509), besides D K Mishra, the director of farms at Jawaharlal Nehru Krishi Vishwa Vidyalaya, Jabalpur, and A K Gupta, director of Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority, or APEDA. This committee did not favour the inclusion of MP as a basmati-cultivating state for the purposes of GI registration.
The new panel has been constituted following hectic lobbying by MP Chief Minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan, and the state government’s contention that the earlier committee’s composition reflected a “breeder bias” towards existing basmati GI areas. Its members are mostly scientists from outside the traditional basmati-growing states. Besides Hanchinal, the committee includes Kerala Agricultural University Vice Chancellor R Chandra Babu, director of the Andhra Pradesh Rice Research Station at Maruteru (West Godavari) P V Satyanarayana, honorary professor at Orissa University of Agriculture & Technology S R Das, deputy director-general (horticultural science) at ICAR Anand Kumar Singh, former DDG (crop science) Swapan Kumar Datta, assistant director-general (seeds) D K Yadav, and ADG (intellectual property) Sanjeev Saxena.
The new committee is expected to submit its report before July 10, when the Madras High Court is scheduled to hear a writ petition filed by the MP government challenging an order passed by the GI Registry under the Office of the Controller General of Patents, Designs & Trade Marks. That order, dated March 15, had rejected MP’s claim to include 13 of its districts — Sehore, Vidisha, Raisen, Hoshangabad, Narsinghpur, Jabalpur, Guna, Shivpuri, Sheopur, Morena, Gwalior, Bhind and Datia — as areas entitled to the basmati GI tag. That would give farmers in these districts the right to cultivate basmati and market it under this premium aromatic varietal category.
APEDA, which had originally filed the application for registering “basmati” as GI, had included only demarcated areas in the Indo-Gangetic plain below the foothills of the Himalayas — covering 77 districts of Haryana, Punjab, West Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Jammu & Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh and Delhi — where this rice can be legally grown.
Currently, about 2 lakh hectares (lh) are reported to be under basmati cultivation in MP, with the 10 lakh tonnes (lt) of paddy production from this worth roughly Rs 2,600 crore. In contrast, the total cultivated area in the main basmati belt is over 16 lh — 7 lh in Haryana, 6 lh in Punjab, 2.6 lh in UP, 0.6 lh in J&K, 0.15 lh in Uttarakhand and 0.07 lh in HP. India produces an estimated 65 lt of milled basmati rice, of which 40-41 lt is exported. During 2017-18, the country’s basmati exports were valued at $ 4.17 billion (Rs 26,870.17 crore).
Those opposing MP’s claim for inclusion as a GI area for basmati say that the state was never known to have traditionally grown this aromatic paddy. Allowing MP’s claim would open the floodgates for others from Rajasthan to Bihar to also demand the GI tag. That would dilute basmati’s premium character attributable to its specific geographical origin in the Indo-Gangetic plain below the foothills of the Himalayas.
However, rice millers in MP point out that the state today accounts for 50 per cent of the area under Pusa Basmati-1 and 70 per cent of the exports of this particular improved variety to the US and European markets. That itself is proof of the quality of basmati being cultivated by farmers in MP. And it would be difficult to deny these farmers the right to grow basmati — especially in an election year.