PRESERVING INDIA’S UNNOTICED ASSET: GEOGRAPHICAL INDICATIONS
India is a vast land of varied cultures and regions, more so that it can be divided into five major divisions. Unlike most countries in the world, we have mountains, plateaus, plains, coastal regions, and islands all of this together in one place! Naturally, with diversity, comes a ton of different kinds of people, lifestyles, food and food products, handicrafts, etc. History shows us that India, because of its nature has a rich culture and heritage. Even great voyagers of the past times like Christopher Columbus and Vasco da Gama longed to visit India to experience its greatness. Spices from Kerala, Alphonso mangoes from Ratnagiri, Tea from Darjeeling, Silk sarees from Kanchipuram, Petha from Agra, etc are just a few examples of the things one can get from around India.
But have you ever wondered, why products from a particular region are always tagged and are given special recognition? This is because of Geographical Indications. Geographical Indication plays a very important role in identifying a particular product of a particular region. A geographical indication (GI) is a sign used on products that have a specific geographical origin and possess qualities or a reputation that are due to that origin. To function as a GI, a sign must identify a product as originating in a given place. In addition, the qualities, characteristics, or reputation of the product should be essentially due to the place of origin. Since the qualities depend on the geographical place of production, there is a clear link between the product and its original place of production.
Most often, people sell products under the GI tag, making the consumer believe that such products are genuine, however, they are not. In this article, we will find more about the safety of GIs in India and how it can be regulated.
PROTECTION OF GIs IN INDIA
The registration of GIs is not compulsory in India, however, registration provides better legal protection to the GI. Given its commercial potential, legal protection of GI assumes enormous significance. Without suitable legal protection, the competitors who do not have any legitimate rights on the GI might ride free on its reputation. Such unfair business practices result in loss of revenue for the genuine right-holders of the GI and also mislead consumers. Moreover, such practices may eventually hamper the goodwill and reputation associated with the GI.
In India GIs are protected by a sui generis system. The legislation that deals with the protection of GIs in India is the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration & Protection) Act, 1999 (GI Act), and the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Rules, 2002 (GI Rules). The objective of the GI Act of India (the Act) is to provide:
- better legal protection in respect of GIs
- to prevent unauthorized persons from misusing GIs
- to protect consumers from deception
- to promote goods bearing Indian GIs in the export market.
- Darjeeling Tea:
India has been one of the largest and oldest producers of tea in the world. Darjeeling Tea is the most popular tea not only in India but all around the world. It is a world-class quality tea produced in the state of West Bengal and is exported to a lot of places in the world. However, there have been a lot of competitors in the market. India’s major competition comes from countries of Sri Lanka, Kenya, and China. Adequate legal protection is necessary for the protection of legitimate right holders of Darjeeling tea from the dishonest business practices of various commercial entities. For instance, tea produced in countries like Kenya, Sri Lanka, or even Nepal has often been passed off around the world as ‘Darjeeling tea’. Appropriate legal protection of this GI can go a long way in preventing such misuse. Without adequate GI protection both in the domestic and international arena it would be difficult to prevent the misuse of Darjeeling Tea’s reputation, wherein tea produced elsewhere would also be sold under the Darjeeling brand, causing damage to consumers and denying the premium price to Darjeeling tea industry. The industry is now waking up to the fact that unless Darjeeling Tea is properly marketed and branded, the survival of the industry may be at stake and GI protection along with stringent enforcement can go a long way in helping the industry to improve its financial situation.
- Banarasi Silk Sarees and Brocades:
Banarasi Silk Sarees with fine gold and silver thread work with brocade or zari is the most beautiful piece of fabric that one comes across. The skills and craftsmanship used to weave these sarees are high quality and one of its kind. However, even after being a quality product, these Banarasi Sarees often face competition with cheap silk imports from China and Surat. These cheap alternatives are often sold as Banarsi Silk sarees. These alternatives lack the quality as they are mass-produced by power looms whereas Banarasi Silk Sarees are handwoven by talented craftsmen who have been doing the work for generations. The alternatives are manufactured at cheaper prices and are sold at cheaper rates as compared to the original Banarasi Sarees, thus, the cheaper alternatives are more popular in the market. Even though Banarasi Sarees are a registered GI, no legal action has been taken against the cheaper alternatives available in the market. This affects the poor craftsmen whose livelihood depends on this. Moreover, the lack of consumers keeps diminishing because of the cheaper alternatives available.
HOW CAN AUTHENTICITY BE REGULATED?
The main purpose of GI is to show the origin of the product and to feature its qualities, however, usually, people tend to forget the quality and the authenticity factor of GI. Presently, there are two dominant models of formal regulatory mechanisms for quality control and maintenance for GI-denominated products
- The European-style sui generis quality scheme: The European Union presently only grants GIs to agricultural products and slowly moving towards non-agricultural GIs. They have strict rules pertaining to quality checks and quality control of GIs. These checks are done by officials appointed by the member states.
- The American-style quality scheme: This scheme is based on certification marks, which is not specifically a sui generis system for GIs but includes relevant provisions with respect to quality control. In the US, they use trademark style protection.
India being the hub of existing and potential GIs must make better rules pertaining to the laws that protect GIs and its authenticity. Stringent quality checks and quality control measures must be adopted. With the current scenario, where the entire world is fighting a pandemic, supporting local products and local artists is of utmost importance. ‘Vocal for Local’ must be our motto, now and forever. GIs not only guarantee quality products but also support artisans and craftsmen. More importantly cheaper alternatives can never compete with the authenticity and quality of original products, and who does not enjoy the best quality products? As a consumer if I seek for tea I would hope that the tea leaves are from Darjeeling instead of some cheap quality tea with the tag of “Darjeeling tea”, in no way will I want to compromise on that. However, this can only be done when authentic sellers and producers of these GI goods are given advantage over the fake ones. Keeping a check on the authenticity and origins of the products we purchase is a good habit which we all must inculcate.