MADHYA PRADESH has lost its claim to market rice under the basmati tag, with the Geographical Indications (GI) Registry issuing an order excluding the state from the area officially demarcated for cultivation of this aromatic paddy variety.
“Farmers in MP can continue growing the premium rice, but it cannot be called basmati. The GI certification rights for basmati cultivation will be limited only to seven states in the Indo-Gangetic plains on the foothills of Himalayas: Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Delhi, Uttarakhand, Uttar Pradesh (west) and two districts of Jammu & Kashmir (Jammu and Kathua),” a top official from the Agricultural & Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) told The Indian Express.
MP principal secretary (agriculture), Rajesh Rajora, said the state government would challenge the GI Registry’s order in the Madras High Court Monday. “Many facts submitted by us have not been taken into consideration,’’ he said.
The Chennai-based Registry operates under the Office of the Controller General of Patents, Designs & Trade Marks.
The APEDA, a statutory body under the Union Commerce Ministry, had in November 2008 filed an application for GI registration of basmati grown in the seven states. However, in December 2013, the GI Registry asked APEDA to also include MP, Rajasthan and other states where basmati varieties are grown, and submit an amended application. This was challenged by APEDA, which filed an appeal in February 2014 before the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (IPAB).
Backed by rice miller-exporters and farmer organisations in Punjab and Haryana, along with the two state governments, the main argument put forth by APEDA was that adding MP and others to the list of states eligible to be issued GI mark would result in basmati losing its premium tag and a beating down of prices.
In February 2016, the IPAB upheld APEDA’s appeal and ordered the GI Registry to grant recognition for basmati rice grown only in the seven states. But it also directed the MP government to provide additional evidence to show that the state had an established tradition of growing basmati to warrant a GI tag, while asking the Registry to consider these claims afresh.
“The GI Registry has now rejected MP’s case,” said the APEDA official.
The ruling would imply that farmers in Morena, Bhind, Sheopur, Gwalior, Datia, Shivpuri, Guna, Vidisha, Raisen, Sehore, Hoshangabad, Narsinghpur and Jabalpur — the 13 districts for whose inclusion MP had staked claim — cannot technically grow basmati rice.
Currently, an area of over 2 lakh hectares in MP is reported to be under cultivation of improved basmati varieties, such Pusa-1 and Pusa-1121. This constitutes nearly 10 per cent of the estimated total area under cultivation in the country — about 18 lakh hectares, including 7 lakh hectares in Haryana, 6 lakh hectares in Punjab and 2.5 lakh hectares in UP.
The GI Registry’s judgment is expected to impact not just farmers but also companies such as LT Foods, which sells basmati rice under the popular Daawat brand, SSA International and Narmada Cereals Pvt. Ltd. All of them source significant quantities of basmati from MP and have set up modern rice mills near Bhopal.
In his order dated March 15, Chinnaraja G Naidu, Assistant Registrar, Trade Marks & GI, stated: “The documents and evidence filed by opponents (MP government and the above three companies) shows the importance [and] special characters of rice cultivated in Madhya Pradesh, but not Basmati cultivation.Opponent has therefore failed to satisfy the fundamental requirement of Popular Public perception of Basmati cultivation in Madhya Pradesh.The tribunal reaches a conclusion that there is proper demarcation of cultivation area in the GI application filed by the respondent/application (i.e. APEDA). The opponent failed to prove the Basmati cultivation in the claim with supporting documents. A mere plea, without supported by any corroborative evidence, has no gravity in the eye of law.”
Priyanka Mittal, director of KRBL Ltd, India’s largest basmati exporter and owner of India Gate, welcomed the order. “It restores the sanctity and preserves the heritage of basmati as a premium rice indigenous to the Indo-Gangetic plains on the Himalayan foothills. We should protect basmati the way France has done for champagne. The basmati brand was getting diluted to the extent where even states like Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh were taking up cultivation and sale of basmati. They should develop their own aromatic rice varieties,” she said.
For the BJP government in MP, the order comes at an inopportune time, when it has been trying to placate farmers after the unrest in June 2017 that led to police firing near Mandsaur. Besides, assembly elections are due in the state later this year.
During the legal battle, the state pointed out that its farmers had been growing basmati for decades using traditional and new techniques. Its petition also argued that the Madhya Pradesh Seed and Farm Development Corporation had been distributing basmati seed varieties to farmers, and that there was no consensus on traditional basmati growing areas in the country.