Bengal is exulting after a ‘sweet victory’, having won the coveted Geographical Indication (GI) tag for Banglar rosogolla and thereby bringing the curtains down on a bruising two-and-half year battle with Odisha. Rosogolla sales are reportedly up by 25 percent after the latest GI registry entry on November 14. Amongst the Bengal populace known for its sweet tooth, the rosogolla occupies pride of place. It is estimated that the rosogolla industry of Bengal has an annual turnover of over Rs 20,000 crore; this is expected to increase after the GI tag. But Odisha is not ready to throw in the towel yet, dubbing the GI registry decision “an injustice”, and is said to be mulling a renewed application seeking GI tag for Odia Rasagola. Back in 2015, the Odisha government had put forward a claim that the famed rosogolla was first served as a sweetmeat back in the 13th century at Lord Jaganth temple in Puri; three committees were set up to hunt for and examine the evidence to back this claim. This galvanised the Bengal government to apply for GI registry by citing historical records testifying that the rosogolla origited there in the 19th century — it could have been invented in Calcutta by confectioner bin Chandra Das, or in village Phulia of dia district by confectioner Haradhan, or others. After the due procedure of examining the evidence, followed by objections, hearing, opposition and appeal, the GI registry published the results in its jourl in July this year and conferred the recognition last Tuesday. The Geographical Identification authority in Cheni has meanwhile stated that Odisha can apply for GI tag for its own Odia Rasagola “with proper documents to substantiate its claims”. So the bottomline is that a State has to do its homework thoroughly and buttress its claims with proper records when seeking GI tag for agricultural or manufactured products, handicrafts, foodstuffs, wine and spirits. So far, Assam has received GI tag for Muga silk, Joha rice, pungent ginger produced in Karbi Anglong, juicy Tezpur litchi and Orthodox tea grown in the State. There has been occasiol talk that Dispur could seek GI tag for more products, like the gamosa, ready-to-eat komal chaul and judima wine brewed from Bora rice by the Dimasas.
For any State, the GI tag is coveted because it indicates that the product in question is ‘exotic’ to a countrywide as well as intertiol clientele. The product’s origin is associated with a particular geographical location, and is supposed to bear an assurance of quality. Once the GI tag is obtained, the understanding is that the product will get a firm foothold in the market, command its rightful price, and will be protected from spurious competing products. Since the GI tag indicates a particular region, it benefits the local community, helps protect tural resources and traditiol knowhow with which the product is made, stabilises and adds value to the supply chain, boosts exports and gives a fillip to tourism. India has its own Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 which came into force in 2003. The GI registry list in India is already 316 entries long and growing fast. Considering the diversity across the country, this list could have thousands of entries in near future. But experts point out that the groups of artisans or entire communities that bring out such products are seldom aware of the benefits of GI tag, the nitty-gritty of the GI Act, the formalities and documentation needed to apply for GI registration. It is here that State governments need to be alert and pro-active to seize opportunities for GI tag, like Bengal government has done for Banglar rosogolla. This ensures a leading role for local producer communities, helping to bring about their empowerment and socio-economic development. As for the Central government, it needs to pursue aggressively cases of GI tag violation in other countries. While the World Trade Organisation (WTO) enjoins member tions to respect GI rights and prevent their violation under the Trade Related Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) regime, so far the system is working only for wines and spirits. WTO members are yet to agree on a ‘common and multilateral’ GI register covering all products — which India has been pushing for years. Till that comes about, India needs to look out for safeguarding the interests of its States in foreign markets, just as States need to do the same for their local producer communities.