According to the WTO (World Trade Organization), the Geographical Indication (GI) label is “a form of intellectual property, certification or sign or name given to certain goods/products that are unique to a region or at a particular geographic location”. The label guarantees the quality and essential attributes of the goods/products.

In India, there are more than 400 GI labels, each ensuring that no one other than those registered as authorized users are allowed to use the popular product name. Darjeeling tea was the first Indian product to obtain a GI label in 2005. “The uniqueness of a product is an important factor in obtaining a geographical indication,” shares Satyadeep Singh, a lawyer and GI expert. Under the Agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS), he further explains that the country must protect product rights and intellectual properties. “When it comes to GIs, a community is the patent holder, and the label works to protect them.

“To apply for a GI label, you must identify the unique characteristic of your goods/products. See how it plays a specific role in the history and geography of the place, then make your request. The process of providing someone with a GI tag is similar to investigating a case. The authorities will check the characteristics associated with your goods/products to see if they meet the minimum requirements. You will be asked to address a few concerns, if any. The documentation is a bit cumbersome, but it’s worth it in the end,” he explains.

This brings us to the next question: how does a GI tag help?

GI Beacons are as important as World Heritage Sites – we showcase our nation’s heritage to the world. The idea is to preserve it and not let others take credit for our cultural heritage. The ideal example would be turmeric, which despite being an Indian home remedy and Ayurvedic medicine, was adopted by the United States taking a GI and patent for its medicinal properties even before Indians were aware of the process.

Hyderabad-based artisan Dhanalakota Rakesh, who creates Cheriyal paintings, an ancient folk art form from Telangana, shares his experience. “My family has been associated with this art form for decades. We describe stories in the form of pictures and we have seen a gradual decline in demand for this art form. My father continued to do this work, gaining recognition from the government. In 2018, we heard about GI labels, and the government pushed us to apply for them. I didn’t even know how to optimize it. However, we have seen a resurgence of interest in our art over the years after GI. Businesses and the general public are now taking an interest in this art form, and the IG tag gives it a stamp of authenticity. We also have a lot of support from the government, especially the tourism department.

In India, the GI label is assigned by the Geographical Indications Registry (Headquarters in Chennai) under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act 1999. The label is valid for ten years and can be renewed. Karnataka has the highest number of GI tags followed by Tamil Nadu.

While GI tags work to build buzz around the product/art form, the process of getting one requires a more structured approach. Based in Hazaribagh, Justin Imam is the founder of Virasat Trust and works for the protection, promotion and preservation of Sohrai arts with his wife, Alka. He is of the opinion that IM tags need to have a more holistic approach. “GI tags are a way for your state to show its newness. Therefore, it is imperative that government agencies be aware of the art form to help people in this process. We dedicated ourselves to Sohrai art, but it’s not because we want to sell this art form and make money. Yes, it’s a good thing when people make a living, but we also need to develop a framework in which people appreciate the true value of the art form and ensure that it endures for many decades.

Imam adds that a holistic view is needed to ensure arts and other products are protected. “We don’t want our art to be mere decorative pieces. You can call me a critic of IG labels (laughs), but I say that because I know our country has a vast treasure trove of products/art forms that can have their own IG labels. For that to happen, we need a better ecosystem where everyone, every state understands the value of every art/product,” he says.

India is a culturally rich country, we are still far behind in recognizing the value of GIs. “People get discouraged because of the time it takes for the label to be approved (it can often take several years), and putting the paperwork in place is cumbersome. Besides a faster process, we also need to recognize the people working to obtain GI labels – not just for themselves but also for others – and ensure that the cultural heritage of the country is preserved,” concludes the lawyer. Singh.

Top ten Indian products/foods with a GI label

1. Kashmir Saffron, Jammu & Kashmir

2. Sojat Mehndi, Rajasthan

3. Rasagola, Odisha

4. Gulbarga Tur Dal, Karnataka

5. Thanjavur Paintings, Tamil Nadu

6. Coorg Arabica Cafe, Karnataka

7. Alphonso Mango, Maharashtra

8. Khola Chilli, Goa

9. Kutch Embroidery, Gujarat

10. Kannauj Perfume, Uttar Pradesh

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