A few days ago the Hindu published a telling editorial written by Justice Prabha Sridevan, former judge of the Madras High Court and former Chairperson of the IPAB. The lucid editorial highlights the need for India to concentrate not just on patents and other mainstream IP rights but also bring back Geographical Indications (GIs) into the foreground of debate. This is specially true for India, as she rightly remarks “Practically everything that we grow, make or produce is linked to a particular region. For example, we often hear these examples in every day conversation: ‘Leave your Kolhapuri chappals over there.’ ‘Come in and wash your hands with Mysore Sandal soap.’ ‘Have those idlis made with the Coimbatore wet grinder.’ ‘The Darjeeling tea in the Jaipur pottery cup.’ ‘Where did you buy that Sanganeri print?’ All of them are GIs.”
The editorial is replete with anecdotes that help strongly convey the need to revive the fast fading GIs in India. For example, the editorial throws light on how the weavers of Kancheepuram Silk (a GI) are abandoning their craft; the Thanjavur Veena (made from the wood of the jackfruit tree), another GI, is vanishing slowly because raw materials are becoming expensive; these craftpersons are now turning to other sources of income.
GIs are a unique breed of intellectual property rights as they have a ‘collective’ and ‘public’ dimension. The overall objective of GI protection is not only to empower a single producer but to empower communities that have been producing goods that are unique to a particular geographical region. Ideally, GI protection should lead to socio economic progress in such regions and to such communities. However, several obstacles, starting from the lack of awareness of GI protection, GI products not being utilized to their full potential, varying qualities of products, free riding, fragmented markets and the unorganized nature of many of these communities, result in the dilution of the objectives of such protection. All of which also play a role in the eventual abandoning of unique crafts.
Revival of GIs can take place in several ways. Increasing awareness about GI protection is one such way. Recently, Kiran blogged about the laudable initiative by the Tezpur University Intellectual Property Rights Cell (TUIPR) Cell, along with the IPR Cell of the Dibrugarh University and volunteers from the North Lakhimpur College, to increase awareness about GIs in the Northeast. By the end of this camp, more than 90 people applied to be registered users of Muga Silk. As pointed out by Prabha Sridevan, even small steps can make significant impact.
The efforts and results of this camp should inspire the governments to follow suit in enabling the realization of the objectives of the GI Act. Though some states have introduced schemes to revive local arts, the overall attitude is still far from satisfactory. This is because instead of spreading awareness and making sure benefits reach the stakeholders, as reported by Prashant here and here, many government bodies that are not associations of producers have been filing GI applications and appropriating GIs for themselves. To name a few, the APEDA filed a GI application for Basmati, the Central Leather Research Institute filed a GI application for Kolhapuri Chappals etc. These instances go to show that GIs are certainly valuable for India but the implementation and working of the GI Act needs to be more bottom-up than top-down. Therefore, may be its time for us to ponder as to who is going to be the G.I. Joe that will save the dying Indian GIs?