Basmati unites India, Pak in ‘joint heritage’ claim

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New Delhi | Updated: Dec 06, 2015 1:01 AM

Rice variety grown in Indo-Gangetic plain expected to get GI tag soon; New Delhi and Islamabad to share commercial benefits

Basmati riceBasmati rice from the Indo-Gangetic plain, which includes the Punjab province of Pakistan, has a special aroma attributable to it. (Reuters)

India’s basmati rice exporters could soon get the coveted geographical indication (GI) tag and resultant premium for the long-grained aromatic rice in global markets, with New Delhi and Islamabad resolving to share commercial gains from the grain’s exclusive traits. Official sources said Pakistan has agreed not to contest India’s move to include basmati rice grown in its part of the Indo-Gangetic plain in its GI Registry, with the condition that when that country puts in place a similar IPR (intellectual property rights) platform, it would also get the rice grown in its Punjab province registered under a GI system.

A GI tag for a product distinguishes itself for its geographic origin and, under a multilateral framework, prevents traders from attributing its name and traits for products from other geographies. GI ascribes ‘exclusivity’ to the community in a defined geography, rather than to an individual, as in the case of trademarks and patents.

The Chennai-based Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB), sources said, recently concluded hearing all the stakeholders — farmers, breeders, exporters and representatives from Pakistan — on the basmati rice GI and could issue a final notification in this regard in a week or so. Earlier, there were conflicting claims over basmati even among Indian states, leading to legal wrangles.

GI protection in India would lead to similar recognition in other countries, including the European Union and the US, which implies that India’s competitors would be barred from using the ‘basmati’ tag. In the absence of GI for basmati rice, many private companies have been trying to register their products under the title, which commands a premium in the global market.

Basmati rice from the Indo-Gangetic plain, which includes the Punjab province of Pakistan, has a special aroma attributable to it. India commands 85% share in global basmati trade at present.

Following the GI notification, farmers in 77 districts of seven states — Punjab, Haryana, (western) Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir — would benefit.

The GI Registry, in a directive issued on December 31, 2013, had asked the Centre if Madhya Pradesh could be included in the definition of traditionally basmati-growing geography, inviting strong reactions from the commerce and agriculture ministries, which argued the state’s claim was unjustified. Even as the issue was pending with the GI Registry, the Madhya Pradesh government had moved the IPAB. The Agricultural and Processed Foods Export Development Authority (Apeda), which operates under the commerce ministry, subsequently told IPAB that MP’s claim was invalid. Under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999, Apeda is designated to be the custodian of GI rights for farm produce.

“Claiming rice grown in Madhya Pradesh as basmati is not correct, as we have developed seed varieties keeping in mind agro-climatic zones of the Indo-Gangetic plain,” K V Prabhu, deputy director, Indian Agricultural Research Institute (IARI), and a well-known rice breeder, had recently told FE.

In 2009, Apeda had applied to the GI Registry asking for exclusive (commercial) use of the basmati tag for grain varieties grown within the boundaries of the Indo-Gagentic plain. Subsequently, India and Pakistan had initiated steps to register basmati under GI as ‘joint heritage’ for protecting its premium market abroad. But that bid did not fructify due to opposition to it within Pakistan.

India’s basmati rice exports, which had touched a record R29,000 crore in 2013-14, fell to R27,600 crore in 2014-15, due to a decline in shipments to Iran.

According to official data, more than 237 products — Darjeeling tea, Madhubani paintings, Alleppey coir, Kashmir Pashmina, among others, have got GI certification for preserving their uniqueness.

Tag this
* India’s competitors would be barred from using ‘basmati’ tag
* Intellectual Property Appellate Board notification expected in a week or so
* Farmers in 77 districts of Punjab, Haryana, western UP, Uttarakhand, Delhi and J&K to benefit

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