The Muga Silk of Assam, despite having received a GI in 2007 and a GI logo in 2012, found itself plagued by a strange issue – a very negligible number of registered users. What makes this interesting is that according to Prof. Prabuddha Ganguli, MHRD IPR Chair Professor, Tezpur University, over a period of 8 years, both state agencies and non-government organisations have through combined efforts been able to received only 13 applications, of which 2 were accepted – the first one being accepted only in 2014.
Things, however, underwent a massive transformation when the Tezpur University IPR Cell (with the funding support of the MHRD Chair Professor) along with the IPR Cell of the Dibrugarh University and the faculty members and volunteers of the North Lakhimpur College decided to step in. With the objective of gaining a well rounded understanding of how the MUGA silk value chain really works, Professor Arshad Hussain, JRF in the TUIPR Cell, was deputed by TUIPR to conduct an extensive field research project at the absolute grassroots level in order to identify the reasons for the low number of applications and consequent registrations,
- low levels of awareness of the significance of GI,
- non-availability of reliable quality monitoring systems to differentiate “genuine Muga” from “adulterated Muga”.
- insignificant organisational support across the entire value chain including nonexistence of enforcement mechanisms in the State of Assam against adulteration and mixed products in the market place
- difficulties in making and sending error free applications
Now, all the above issues are problems that could have been easily tackled by government agencies by doing what this university did. Their first camp was conducted on January 9, 2015 at Guwahati where nearly 100 stakeholders participated. In addition to presentations elaborating on the very concept of GI, a discussion with regard to the various issues in relation to Muga Silk currently in Assam was held.
Subsequently, Professor Arshad Hussain conducted another field work project across various areas that included Dhakuakhana ,Ghilamara, Nakari, Panigaon, Khelmati, Napam and Rangpuria to mobilise stakeholders for the next workshop.
The workshop conducted in North Lakhimpur of the Lakhimpur district on March 17, 2015 saw the registration of 117 stakeholders from 33 villages. Affidavits were prepared on the sport by TUIPR Cell members with the help of a local attorney. 89 application forms were filled by the end of the day of which 54 stakeholders submitted their drafts for the registration fee of Rs. 600/- on the day of the camp, and the remaining 32 paid the application fee directly to the Cell members.
The IPR Cell of the Dibrugarh University and student volunteers from North Lakhimpur college participated actively in this workshop. Although no representatives from the GI Registry was allowed to attend the camp, the Assistant Registrar provided ample help by supplying information booklets with guidance concerning the procedure for filing applications (wonder why they didn’t think of this in the last seven years?!)
What made the workshop even more of a raging success was the fact that the entire workshop at Lakhimpur was conducted purely in Assamese and partly in Hindi, with the aim of reaching a wider audience.
It is pertinent to mention at the very outset, that though it is indisputable that the TUIPR’s work is extremely commendable, it is worth noting that nothing about the camps organised were anything that the government couldn’t have managed and arranged for by itself. The fact that despite the government’s ‘efforts’, it failed to accomplish what the Tezpur University did despite having a much wider reach through state agencies and authorities, is really rather shameful.
The GI was never to be a mere heritage stamp. Individual producers and cultivators demand a GI tag for their unique locally grown agricultural commodities only because they anticipate increased exposure to the goods, and thereby greater sales. It is the government’s responsibility, therefore, to ensure that when a product is deemed GI-worthy, along with bestowing the GI tag, the concerned stakeholders be made aware at the same time not only about the economic advantages associated with being an authorised user of a GI-product, but also the most basic information with regard to how exactly to go about becoming an authorised and registered user in the first place, and the specifics thereof.
So, it really all just comes down to one question : What is stopping the government from going out of its way to do just exactly that?
The answer, dear reader, lies in the two words you’ve heard one too many times before.
Same old, same old, indeed.
The welcome address was delivered in Assamese by Dr Pritam Deb, Coordinator, TUIPR Cell, Tezpur University, who shed light on the significance of GI and how through registration as an authorised user, economic benefits can be reaped.
Introducing the theme of the camp, Prof. Prabuddha Ganguli, MHRD IPR Chair Professor, Tezpur University explained the importance of creating “local bodies”, “associations”, “clusters” and “cooperatives” to effectively use IPR tools like patents, trademark, design registrations and GI to further the socio-economic development of communities in the region.
Then the Guest of Honour, Dr Hamendra Kr Gogoi, former Principal and President, Governing Body, North Lakhimpur College spoke in Assamese about his concerns with regard to the uncontrolled adulteration of Muga Silk of Assam, and it subsequent effect on the declining sales of genuine producers. He further spoke about the negative impact of the use of chemicals and pesticides on the quality and quantity of cocoons. With regard to pollution affecting Muga silk production, we did a post here earlier.
Thereafter, several presentations were given in reference to the concept of GI and its benefits.
Mr. Bipul Saikia spoke about the factors affecting the quality of the pupas and the consequent impact on the quality of the thread and woven products.
Dr (Smt) Suchibrata Goswami of TUIPR Cell, for instance, gave a brief overview of how difference IPR tools including GIs, patents, trademarks can be used to secure protection for one’s unique creations.
Smt. Juri Borbora Saikia of the TUIPR Cell then explained how how by fulfilling the specifications laid down by the GI Registry in Chennai, the stakeholders can become authorised users and watch their products yield a higher value in the market.
An enthusiastic interactive session was held, where the stakeholders asked several questions in Hindi and Assamese that were answered by Professor Ganguli, Smt Juri Borbora Saikia, Dr (Smt) Suchibrata Goswami. They made importance suggestions, which included :
- the need to lay down clearly the specifications for the use of the GI-Muga Silk of Assam logo,
- the need to establish simple tests to differentiate between genuine and adulterated Muga silk, and
- to establish a strong Inspection and Enforcement Body to supervise Muga silk related activities to protect the authentic Muga silk.
- to hold the next camp in a different location so as to spread the concept of GI far and wide across Assam.
Stakeholders were explained that the next step was to obtain the consent of Assam Science Technology and Environment Council (ASTEC), as it is the Registered Proprietor of the GI-Muga Silk of Assam and obtaining its consent before submitting the applications to the GI Registry in Chennai is mandated under the Act. The camp ended with a Vote of Thanks by Shri Bipul Saikia.
Kudos to the TUIPR Cell, the IPR Cell of Dibrugarh University and the volunteers from the North Lakhimpur College for having successfully organised this GI workshop.
Hope the government decides to take a leaf out of their book and sets up similar camps in regions across the country where GI-tags have been awarded.