Madhya Pradesh basmati claims spark protest, exporters, farmers call it unjustified

By: | Published: August 31, 2017 6:06 AM

Indian farmers and traders enjoying premium in the world basmati rice markets due to the geographical indication (GI) status of the aromatic, long-grained cereal have come up against Madhya Pradesh’s “unjustified bid” to partake in the success.

Indian farmers, farmers, Madhya Pradesh, Cereal, Basmati, Basmati rice, marketsIndian farmers and traders enjoying premium in the world basmati rice markets due to the geographical indication (GI) status of the aromatic, long-grained cereal have come up against Madhya Pradesh’s “unjustified bid” to partake in the success. (Image: IE)

Indian farmers and traders enjoying premium in the world basmati rice markets due to the geographical indication (GI) status of the aromatic, long-grained cereal have come up against Madhya Pradesh’s “unjustified bid” to partake in the success. While the Chennai-based GI Registry is set to decide on MP’s application for inclusion of the state’s several districts as traditionally basmati-growing on Thursday, the current holders of the GI tag — 77 districts across seven states on the Indo-Gangetic Plain — have argued that if the central Indian state’s plea is accepted, the GI would lose its goodwill and exclusive credentials. Also, it will give a window for other countries including Pakistan and China to claim the GI benefits.

Exporters under the banner of the All India Rice Exporters Association (AIREA) wrote to the commerce ministry saying inclusion of MP in basmati-rice-grown areas would “open up a plethora of appeals to include other areas which would dilute GI credentials of India”. The expansion of the GI region for basmati would hit India’s exports of the item, even as exporters’ price realisation is already under pressure. India exported basmati rice worth Rs 21,604 crore in 2016-17 against the all-time high shipments of Rs 29,300 crore in 2013-14 despite volumes having risen.

Currently, 11 districts in Pakistan also grow basmati rice and export the item to Europe thanks to an India-Pakistan agreement. “This GI ownership of basmati rice is an understanding between the European Union and India-Pakistan giving us an edge over the rest of the world. Any distortion in the well-defined and historically established boundaries of the GI zone will damage the uniqueness and creditability of basmati,” AIREA president Vijay Setia said in a letter to commerce secretary Rita Teaotia. Setia has cautioned that many other countries are claiming that they too can grow basmati rice. In February 2016, seven years after filing the application, the GI Registry granted GI certification for basmati rice to the Agricultural and Processed Food Exports Development Authority (APEDA) under the commerce ministry.

The registry also allowed stakeholders from Madhya Pradesh to submit fresh documents for inclusion in basmati-grown areas. The Madhya Pradesh government in its submission had stated that gazetteers from British times refer to cultivation of basmati rice in the state and that climatic conditions in the state are as favourable as in other states to growing the rice. The districts of Morena, Bhind, Gwalior, Sheopur, Vidisha, Raisen, Sehore, Hoshangabad, Jabalpur and Narsingpur used to grow basmati rice, it said.  Besides AIREA and APEDA, the Punjab and Haryana governments have already contested the evidence of Madhya Pradesh, describing those as unscientific and without any proper verification. India commands an 85% share in global basmati trade at present.

Following the GI notification, farmers in 77 districts of seven states — Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir — have the special right to grow basmati rice. GI, a form of intellectual property right (IPR), is distinct from other forms of IPRs as it ascribes the exclusivity to the community in a defined geography rather than to an individual as in the case of trademarks and patents.  A GI tag can be issued for agricultural, natural or manufactured goods that have a unique quality, reputation or other characteristics attributable to its geographical origin. A GI registration gives the registered proprietor and authorised users the legal right to the exclusive use of the GI, and no unauthorised person can use the tag. For example, Darjeeling tea, Kancheepuram silk, Mysore silk, Hyderabad haleem, Mizo chilli products, etc, sold with the GI tag get premium pricing as well. According to official data, 272 products have got GI certification for preserving their uniqueness so far.

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