The government recognises 34 Indian rice varieties, both traditional and evolved, as basmati while Pakistan has also a few more.
Considering the past instances of attempts to sell aromatic rice of other countries under basmati, registration under GI will help India to protect the name legally. (Representative image)
The European Commission has sought public comments on India’s plea to register the name ‘Basmati’ under geographical indication (GI). The GI application was filed by India in 2018. Similar applications have also been filed by Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (Apeda) to register the aromatic rice variety under GI in Thailand and Malaysia.
Considering the past instances of attempts to sell aromatic rice of other countries under basmati, registration under GI will help India to protect the name legally. Apeda has also sought registration of ‘Basmati’ under copyright law in some 15-16 countries where there is no concept of GI, officials said. Basmati rice is grown below the foothills of the Himalayas in the Indo-Gangetic plains, which include some areas in Pakistan also. However, the application by India does not mention Pakistan.
The government recognises 34 Indian rice varieties, both traditional and evolved, as basmati while Pakistan has also a few more. The European Union, a major market for traditional varieties of basmati, has also been buying a large quantity of evolved varieties since last one decade. India’s basmati exports to EU countries dropped 9% to $207 million during FY20 and was $63.7 million in the first two months of the current fiscal. The EU had a share of about 8% in India’s total basmati rice exports of $787 million during April-May.
“Being an important application in international registration of Basmati rice, this will undergo a detailed scrutiny and interpretation in the context of western, Asian and Bharatiya values. This will present opportunities and challenges in the context of ‘construct of product’ and current geopolitical environment to set the future history,” said S Chandrasekaran, a trade policy analyst and author of a book on Basmati GI. He also wondered if the move to register in the EU would help India thwart the claim of Pakistan using this current matrix.
After a long battle, Apeda was able to get GI tag for basmati in 2018, when the GI regsitry dismissed Madhya Pradesh’s plea for its inclusion in the growing region of the aromatic rice variety saying there was no “corroborative evidence” to suggest that the variety was grown in the state. The Chennai-based Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB) in February 2016 had directed the GI Registry to issue a certificate of registration to Apeda and reconsider afresh the plea of inclusion of 13 districts of Madhya Pradesh.
Apeda, which had applied for the GI tag for basmati rice in 2008 and got the registration after seven years of legal battle, had moved the Intellectual Property Appellate Board in 2014 challenging GI Registrar’s first decision (in December 2013) that directed it to file an amended GI application by all areas where basmati rice is cultivated, including Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan and Bihar. While other states stayed away from the legal battle, MP’s chief minister Shivraj Singh Chouhan made it a political issue by raising it during assembly election and has since been pursuing it.
Last month, Chouhan had wrote letter to Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress president Sonia Gandhi objecting to Punjab chief minister’s views on basmati GI. “A big question emerges that if this registration happens in European Union, will it permanently shut the door for Madhya Pradesh in basmati rice,” Chandrasekaran said.