GI tags can help improve economic security for India’s youth

A lot more needs to be done in IPR protection as well

72-Workers-pluck-tea-leaves Perfect brew: Workers pluck tea leaves at the Makaibari estate in Darjeeling | Salil Bera

DARJEELING TEA AND Basmati rice are now household names worldwide. Both are recipients of geographical indication (GI) tags, which means they are of a specific geographic origin and possess unique qualities. According to the ministry of commerce and industry, the Union government is focusing on GIs through its ‘Vocal for Local’, ‘Atmanirbhar Bharat’ and ‘Make in India’ campaigns.

Some of the GI-tagged products shipped abroad in 2021 include king chilli from Nagaland, black rice from Manipur/Assam and mango varieties like Fazli, Khirsapati, and Lakshmanbhog from West Bengal and Banganapalle from Andhra Pradesh. “The government has initiated various action plans to ensure that the benefits to artisans and indigenous local communities are channelled in the right direction, and to provide them a global platform to market their products and add to the economy of the local region,” said IPR (intellectual property rights) lawyer Safir Anand, senior partner of Anand & Anand.

As per available data, 420 GIs have been registered in India till March 2022. “GI protects communities that have perfected over time, the manufacture of arts, textiles, and products imbibing unique attributes owing to geographical origin,” said Anand. Quoting a report by the India Brand Equity Foundation, he said the number of destinations for Darjeeling tea rose from 35 countries in 2004 to 45 in 2019. “The GI protection is not granted to a single entity or enterprise, but rather to any association of persons, producers, organisations or authority established representing the interests of the producers in a particular area.”

Some experts, however, believe that a lot more needs to be done in transferring GI tagging’s economic benefits to stakeholders. “Darjeeling tea is one of the premier brands in the world. Unfortunately, it is being duplicated in every nook and corner of the world. Its GI owner, the India Tea Board, has not taken any steps to address the issue,” said IPR attorney Harikrishna S. Holla of Holla Associates. “The implementation and enforcement of GI rights has to be given preference besides creating awareness among the consuming public.”

Holla said promoting a product was as important as getting the GI tag. “People who are involved in the production of GI-tagged products should be given economic support and should be registered as authorised persons as most of them are from very poor backgrounds. Also, co-operative societies should be formed in places where GI products are manufactured in order to encourage, sustain and promote them. The government should also promote tourism in places where GI products are manufactured,” he said.

A lot more needs to be done in IPR protection as well. India is ranked 43 of 55 countries on the International Intellectual Property Index prepared by the US Chambers of Commerce. “There is a lack of awareness among youngsters, including students, about IPR and its advantages. IPR is the foundation for research and innovation. An IPR culture is yet to grow in India,” said Girish Linganna, director, ADD Engineering Components India Limited. “Entrepreneurs are yet to realise that it is not enough to have knowledge, but that it has to be protected legally. The government, meanwhile, should create IP awareness by establishing information centres in colleges.

Linganna said GI tags from one country lacked legal value in another country. “If GI tags are to benefit consumers, there should be international protection of geographical indicators. The World Trade Organization has to apply its mind in this regard,” he said.

Market analysts are of the view that if India wants to create more economic security for its enterprising youth, it has to create awareness about the advantages of getting global recognition through GI. There should be a yardstick to measure the quality of unique products and that scale has to be GI. As long as GI really stands for quality and uniqueness, it would work both at the domestic and at the international level.