Historically, the Indian subcontinent was known for its well-developed industries and commercial activities. Indian commodities, especially, spices, pearls, fine cotton, among others, were in high demand during the ancient and medieval periods. Angus Maddison, in his book ‘Contours of the world economy, 1–2030 AD: essays in macro-economic history,’ wrote that India was the world’s largest economy during 1 AD and 1000 AD.
With such historical significance, Indian products specific to its culture and land viz. soil, topography, and climate are unique, distinct, and above all, a reminder of its rich heritage. To mark the origin of the product and provide a distinct identity to it, Geographical Indications (GIs) are used to attribute the uniqueness of the product to a defined geographical region.
A GI reflects the particular quality of a product that comes essentially from a particular region’s features or attributes. For instance, Champagne or Bordeaux are regions in France where the soil and climatic conditions as well as production processes make local wines unique in flavor. Similarly, Kilim carpets, Bohemia crystal and Swiss watches reflect local talents and inputs. Such GI usually mean that the goods cannot be replicated elsewhere of the same quality. So even if crystal is widely produced in other parts of the world, the Bohemia crystal has its own particular brand image.
Geographical Indication is covered under the Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) and can be traced from the Paris Convention for the Protection of Industrial Property, 1883. It applies to patents, trademarks, industrial designs, utility models, service marks, trade names, geographical indications, and the repression of unfair competition. The Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights agreement from section 22 to 24 also addresses the international protection of GIs within the framework of the World Trade Organization (WTO).
In India, GI is governed by the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999. It defines GI as, “means an indication which identifies such goods as agricultural goods, natural goods or manufactured goods as originating, or manufactured in the territory of a country, or a region or locality in that territory, where a given quality, reputation or other characteristic of such goods is essentially attributable to its geographical origin and in case where such goods are manufactured goods one of the activities of either the production or of processing or preparation of the goods concerned takes place in such territory, region or locality, as the case may be.”
GI tag provides legal protection to the registered products and provides exclusivity to the product owing to its geographical origin. It also helps in boosting the products’ demand and bring economic prosperity to the producers of the goods. Any association of persons, producers, organisation, or authority established by or under the law can apply for a GI tag. GI tag is valid for ten years and can be renewed further for ten years each.
In India, GI tags are granted to agricultural goods, natural goods, handicrafts, or industrial goods. Darjeeling Tea was the first product in India to be awarded the GI tag in 2004-05.
To date, 370 products from across the country have been given the GI tags as per the GIG Act. Some of these include: Kashmir Saffron from Jammu & Kashmir (2020), Odisha Rasagola (2019-20), Thirubuvanam Silk Sarees from Tamil Nadu (2018-19), Kolhapuri Chappal from Karnataka & Maharashtra (2018-19), Katarni Rice from Bihar (2017-18), Blue Pottery of Jaipur and Kathputlis from Rajasthan (2016-17), Banaras Metal Repouse Craft from Uttar Pradesh (2016-17), Kutch Embroidery from Gujarat (2015-16), and many others from all parts of the country.
Considering the size and varied socio-cultural canvas of the country, a large number of products/goods are still not on the GI list. There is a need to increase awareness amongst the artisans, craftsmen, and consumers as well. For it is not only the uniqueness and protection of the products that come with it, but the GI tag is also the symbol of the rich and varied history of India that can add to the inclusive development of the country.