The Basmati Controversy rears Head across the Indo-Pak Borders

(Image taken from here)
The followers of the Basmati controversy (for our earlier posts, see here) may have been under the impression that the matter had been put to rest back in 2008 when the Indian Parliament had authorized the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (APEDA) to have ownership rights for the purpose of registering Basmati rice grown in the state of Punjab. However, matters have not yet come to a satisfactory conclusion, if reports from across the border are to be believed, with the Pakistani government yet to resolve the issue to the satisfaction of all the parties involved. Not only are the Pakistani authorities still to take a decision as to which exact region should the Basmati be attributed, the Pakistani portion of Punjab only or also including the province of Sindh, but there is also an apparent turf war going on between rivaling contender-institutions regarding to whom should the right of registering Basmati as a trademark in Pakistan go.
In May, 2008, the Pakistani trademark registrar had assigned said rights to the Basmati Growers Association (BGA), but the decision had been challenged in the Sindh High Court in the month of September that very year. Since then, the tussle had been going on between three stakeholders, viz. BGA, APEDA and the Rice Exporters Association of Pakistan (REAP).
The erstwhile chairman of REAP, Haji Abdul Majeed, has accused BGA of having hidden agenda of its own. According to him, this becomes apparent from the manner in which the latter has sought to exclude Sialkot and adjacent region from within the purview of the Geographical Indications, replacing them with other regions where BGA members have been growing the rice, in an effort to induce exporters to buy from them. The proceedings before the Sindh High Court have almost reached their end though, with the parties awaiting the decision at present.
The legal mire is unfortunately costing Pakistan millions in terms of monetary loss. As the President of BGA, Hamid Malhi, laments, the current Pakistani export of Basmati rice is worth about 1 billion USD, which can grow to 2 billions if the trademark remains with BGA. However, with the bill to declare Pakistani Punjab as the rightful source of the geographical indication having been languishing in the annals of the Pakistani Law Ministry for more than 5 years, all Pakistani organizations are lacking the authority to register the trademark of Basmati, in the absence of which, Pakistani Basmati rice cannot receive trade acceptance or recognition from international partners like the European Union.
Majeed, however, is adamant that Sindh basmati has a valid point in its favour, given that the Pakistan Standard Institute as well as Sri Lanka had recognized D-98 (Sugdasi) as the Sindhi basmati –indeed, Sri Lanka has been importing this variety from as far back as 2005. According to him, given that at present Basmati rice or fragrant rice is being produced even in other places such as Bangladesh, Indonesia, Myanmar, Vietnam, Cambodia and even China, there is no reason whatsoever why D-98 cannot take its due place in the fray.
Meanwhile, Zulfikar Thaver, the president of Union of Small and Medium Enterprises (UNISAME) has requested stakeholders not to undermine the Sindhi basmati by placing sole reliance on the concept of geographical origin, but to evaluate the rice on the basis of characteristic features like length, taste, cooking ability and elongation on cooking and aroma, all of which are satisfied by the Sindh Basmati, but for the fact that it is not limited to the region identified by the Rice Research Institute. Thaver has also sought to bolster his argument by drawing expert attention to the relics of the MohenjoDaro civilization near the Sindh area, which contained drawings of Basmati, as well as by citing the mention of Basmati in the works of the Punjabi poet Waris Shah. The Sindh D-98 has also been used as a replacement for the PK-385 variety grown in Punjab. 
One can only hope for Pakistan’s sake that the Sindh High Court will come up with a favorable decision that will benefit the production and export of the Pakistani brand, which would undoubtedly be welcome news to at least those readers of Spicy IP who are gastronomic enthusiasts.
Shouvik Kumar Guha

Shouvik Kumar Guha

Shouvik is at present employed as a Research Associate and a Teaching Assistant at The W.B. National University of Juridical Sciences, Kolkata. He has obtained his B.A. LL.B. (Hons.) degree from NUJS itself and is also currently pursuing his LL.M. degree from the same university. From his very year at law school, he had been attracted towards the discipline of Intellectual Property and that interest has been kindled further in course of time. The interface between IP and other disciplines such as Economics, Anti-trust Law, Human Rights, World Trade Law and the technological developments relating thereto, has especially caught his attention since then. He’s authored several papers on issues relating to IP and other legal disciplines for journals, books, magazines and conferences in national as well as international levels. He is also currently co-heading an organization called Lexbiosis, which is an endeavor meant to facilitate the collaboration between the legal industry and academia.

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