Understanding Geographical Indication (GI)

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Zubair Lone

Of the expansive list of more than 300 products that have been granted Geographical Indication (GI) status in India, only seven odd handicraft products surface from the State of Jammu and Kashmir. Even more surprising, not a single product from the state has ever made it to the list of more than 100 products in the “Agricultural” category. Not even Shopian apple, Pampore saffron, Hirpora potatoes, Khaltse apricots and turnips, Marwah Rajmah or RS Pura basmati could make it to the list!

What is Geographical Indication (GI)?

GI is an intellectual property tag on natural and industrial products and traditional skills that is exclusively associated with a particular place of origin. The GI tag ensures that none other than those registered as authorised users are allowed to use the popular product name.

In 1994, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreement on Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPs) laid down a set of standards by which GIs could be legally enforceable in member states.  India, as a WTO member state, established the system of issuing GI tags by enacting the Geographical Indications of Goods Act, 1999. It enables the Chennai-based Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks to issue GI tags to products after reviewing applications and addressing any objections to them. Accordingly, Darjeeling tea became the first GI tagged product in India in 2004-05.

Some of the other famous GI tagged products in India include:

Kashmir Pashmina (Jammu and Kashmir)

Nagpur orange (Maharashtra)

Banglar Rasogulla (West Bengal)

Mysore silk (Karnataka)

Kancheepuram silk (Tamil Nadu)

Kullu shawl (Himachal Pradesh)

Madhubani painting (Bihar)

Navara rice (Kerala)

Nasik grapes (Maharashtra)

Chanderi saree (Madhya Pradesh)

Phulkari (Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan)

Feni (Goa)

Naga Mirchi (Nagaland)

Why does GI matter?

Apart from conveying an assurance of quality and distinctiveness, essentially attributable to the place of its origin, GI tag on a product has a significant economic rationale. It acts as a signalling device helping the producers to differentiate their products from competing products in the market and enabling them to build a reputation and goodwill around their products, which often fetch a premium price. For instance, tea originating from Darjeeling has been recognised as a product, whose reputation for quality is intimately linked to its geographical origin. The tea has not only emerged as a major product in the export basket of India but also helped in the promotion of tourism and cultural heritage. Moreover, certain communities depend entirely on the market success of their indigenous products, and a GI tag provides recognition and protection of their livelihoods.

Altogether, the benefits of GI are diverse. Though the process of realising these benefits starts with a diligent application and consistent follow-up with the GI registry of India, it doesn’t end there. The benefits could only be sustainably realised by undertaking effective marketing and protection, quality assurance, brand creation, post-sale consumer feedback and support and prosecuting unauthorised copying and faking.

Way back in 2011, in a seminar-cum-workshop on Geographical Indications held in Srinagar, the then Controller General of Patents, Designs and Trade Marks of India, PH Kurian, had said that the state of Jammu and Kashmir has at least 20 products in agriculture, horticulture and handicrafts that are fit to be registered as Geographical Indications and with such registrations, they have a possibility of reaching Rs. 100 crore turnover. Fast forwarding to 2018, why the state has not been able to move beyond the unpromising number of seven GI registrations and a dismal cipher in agriculture category is a subject of further deliberation and exploration.

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