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The importance of GI tags: Why Bengal is celebrating its rasogulla victory

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The two-and-a-half year battle for custody of the rasogulla saw West Bengal finally defeat Odisha Tuesday. The state was awarded the geographical indication (GI) tag for the ‘Banglar rasogulla’.

But what is a GI tag? What is its significance? Why is it so sought-after? We have the answers.

What is a GI tag?

A GI tag essentially works like a trademark or intellectual property right in law, wherein a product belongs exclusively to a particular territory, and “a given quality, reputation, or other characteristic of the good is attributable to its geographic origin”. This is as per the World Trade Organisation agreement on Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS). GI tags last up to a term of 10 years, and can be renewed.

Why are GIs important?

Certain communities depend entirely on the market success of their indigenous products, and a GI tag provides recognition and protection of economic livelihoods. Products also become synonymous with cultural and geographical identity over time, embodying a history of craftsmanship, community, and civilisation.

A marker of authenticity is important to ensure that the interests and efforts of generations of artisans, cooks, farmers, and other professionals are encouraged and safeguarded from competitive prices and factory processes.

GI tags also boost sales and exports, as the geographical limitation on production and official recognition of historical and cultural significance increase demand and create a legacy.

‘Darjeeling tea’ was the first GI-tagged product in India, gaining its label in 2004-2005.

Data from Intellectual Property India, Infographic by Nandita Singh

How did it all begin?

The rudimentary form of the formalised GI tag can be traced as far back as the year 1411, when a parliamentary decree was passed in France to regulate the production of Roquefort cheese. The appellation d’origine contrôlée (AOC) is the French certification granted to wines, cheese, and other agricultural products in order to classify, distinguish, and thereby protect their economic values and cultural origins.

For example, Bordeaux and Champagne both received an AOC tag in 1936.

In 1994, the WTO came to an agreement on TRIPS, that there had to be an agreed upon set of standards by which GIs could be legally enforceable in member states.

In December 1999, the Indian Parliament passed the Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration and Protection Act), which allows the Chennai-based GI registry to classify products under a GI tag after reviewing the application and addressing any objections to it.

How does this effect Odisha and West Bengal?

The Banglar rasogulla can only be made in Bengal, and must carry a GI logo as proof of its authenticity.

Odisha can still submit an application for a GI tag for the Pahala rasogulla. However, no other kind of rasogulla can be branded as the ‘Banglar Rasogulla’.

What else has a GI tag?

Here are some of the most famous products that have been GI tagged in India:

– Darjeeling tea (West Bengal)
– Madhubani painting (Bihar)
– Chanderi saree (Madhya Pradesh)
– Mysore silk (Karnataka)
– Kancheepuram silk (Tamil Nadu)
– Kullu shawl (Himachal Pradesh)
– Kashmir Pashmina (Jammu and Kashmir)
– Phulkari (Punjab, Haryana, and Rajasthan)
– Feni (Goa)
– Nagpur orange (Maharashtra)
– Naga mircha (also known as bhut jolokia) (Nagaland)

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