This article is written by Kavana Rao from Symbiosis Law School, Noida. This article gives an overview of the Geographical Index and the role it plays in the artisanal industry.
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Kashmiri Saffron, Manipuri Black Rice, Palani Panchamirtham in Palani Town, Tirur Betel leaf from Kerala; something that is common among all these is that all these items have recently been given a GI tag. Section 2(3) of the GI Act,1999 defines Geographical Indication as an indication that identifies the agricultural, natural or manufactured goods that originates from and is significant to a particular region of the country and the quality, reputation or characteristic of the good is attributable to that region. For example, like the Coorg Cardamom, Kanchipuram Silk Saree and many more.
The primary purpose of a GI is to differentiate the goods on the basis of their geographical origin. A geographical indication right authorises the ones who have the right to use the indication to prevent its use by a third party whose product does not meet the applicable standards.
Artisanal industry : an overview
The artisanal industry is one of the key drivers for economic growth, increasing employment among the rural groups, and preserving cultural heritage. The industry employs nearly 7 million people directly and indirectly, which comprises a large number of women and people from the weaker sections of society. Therefore, the handicrafts that they make, the textiles they weave and the pottery wheel that they spin has become vital for their livelihood. The artisanal industry is the second-largest rural income provider after the agricultural industry with the artisanal and handicraft industry being a ₹24,300-crore industry and contributing nearly ₹10,000 crores annually in export earnings, according to a report in 2018. These artisans are spread across different parts of the country.
The rural artisans comprise art and handicraft makers, weavers, potters, metalware makers, sculptors and many more. They are the backbone of the rural industry in India and provide employment to the rural population. Mostly these rural artisans adopt their forefather’s vocations and play an important role in carrying forward and upholding their rich cultural life. These rural artisans have inherited their skills from their ancestors, it can be described as a creation symbolising the profound desire and reverence to the art and tradition that the families have been following for generations together.
Within India, artisans can be found everywhere, spanning from the northernmost part to the southernmost parts of India. For instance, we have artisans making wooden toys in the town of Channapatna called Channapatna toys, and in different cities of Rajasthan, we find weavers pursuing different types of block printing on the fabric, the state of Uttar Pradesh is known for its famous Banarasi sarees. Thus, artisans are not limited to a particular region and every region has its own special handicraft and artefact.
Why was GI introduced in India
The GI Act was formulated in 1999 but came into effect in 2003. One of the main reasons for the formulation of the Act was the serious threat that fake handicrafts and handlooms cost businesses and livelihoods of several craftsmen. Mass factory-produced fake Kashmiri carpets, Pashmina shawls and Ganesha idols with different looking eyes were flocking the markets. This not only proved harmful for the producers who could not compete with the low prices of the mass-produced goods, but also the consumers were often fooled by passing off mass-produced goods for handicrafts. The final blow for the introduction of the geographical indication was the Basmati Rice controversy with the United States of America, where the USA was granted a patent for Basmati rice despite the rice crop being grown in India and the South Asian subcontinent for ages. As a consequence of this controversy, India enacted the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999.
What is the role of GI in the artisanal industry
The most important role of GI in the artisanal industry is that it prevents unauthorised use of the product by the commercial operators and prevents passing off of mass produced products as traditional and authentic handicrafts at lower prices which brutally affects the artisans. It not only promotes financial gain to the producers by exporting the products but also provides legal protection in other WTO nations. India is a diverse and rich amalgamation of cultures and traditions, has a wide and prosperous storehouse of goods which can be adduced to their geographical origin or place of production or manufacture. Their place of origin must be recognised and the artisans producing it with the same tedious methods to maintain its originality must be given their due recognition. This also aids in rural development and reducing economic disparities, with the remote regions taking part in the production of the goods registered under the GI registry.
GI also protects the goods from being generic. If the goods become generic with mass production, then the originality and authenticity is lost. The artisans who are mostly from impoverished backgrounds and families who have dedicated all their life towards the art and handicrafts and have been doing so for generations are left unemployed. GI not only protects the artisans but also the consumers.It assures the consumers the right product at the right price directly from the weaver or artisan.
The GI plays a role in protecting the artisans from GI infringement by offering them civil or criminal remedies. These remedies can be sought only if the goods have been registered under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999.
Infringement of geographical indication
Section 22 of the Geographical Indication of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999 states the laws relating to infringement of geographical indication and this Section has to be read with Section 2 of Article 22 of TRIPS Agreement which states that, in respect of geographical indication, members should provide the legal protection to interested parties to prevent infringement of their rights.
Section 67 of the Geographical Indication of Goods Act states the relief provided by Indian courts for violation of geographical indication may be broadly divided into two categories:
The injunction may either comprise an interim or permanent injunction granted for the disclosure of records, the protection of infringing items, documentation or other facts relating to the subject matter of the suit. An injunction is granted to prevent the defendant from disposing of his assets which may largely affect the plaintiff and will not enable him to recover damages, costs or other pecuniary remedies that can be granted to the plaintiff.
Damages or accounts of profits
If the defendant is successful in proving that he/ she or they were ignorant when they started using the geographical sign in the suit and had no reason to believe that the plaintiff’s sign was on the registry, the court shall not award relief by way of compensation or accounts of profits to the plaintiff. It is also important to note that the defendant must stop after learning about the existence and the nature of the right of the plaintiff in the GI.
Delivery-up of the infringing labels
The goods containing infringing labels and indications can be made to be delivered up for destruction or forfeiture of goods that bear false representation of an existing GI.
Judicial remedies are more effective than civil remedies since the former can be easily disposed of. Chapter VIII of the Act deals with such crimes and punishments.
Section 38 to 44 of the Act provides punitive responsibility for violation of various laws relating to the following geographical indications with:
- Falsifying and falsely applying geographical indications to goods.
- Selling goods to which false geographical indications are applied.
Punishment would be imprisonment of six months to three years and a fine not less than Rs. 50,000 but which may extend to Rs. 2,00,000. In case of a second and subsequent offence then the imprisonment would not be of not less than one year which may extend to three years and a fine not less than Rs. 1,00,000 but which may extend to Rs. 2,00,000.
Impact of GI on artisans
A number of art and handicrafts go unrecognised and gradually lose their relevance in the fast moving world. GI ensures that the spirit of such an item is captured and recognised for its place of origin and uniqueness to the region. It also ensures that the goods are protected from forgeries, abuse, and misappropriation and also provides them legal protection. Previously, the authentic banarasi sarees had to face tough competition with the fake ones which became popular in the markets. This was a severe blow to the artisans and the weavers, producing original and authentic sarees, putting in long hours of labour and skills. The fake ones were sold for lesser prices and thus made it difficult for the original banarasi sarees to compete with them. By helping, producers differentiate their products by providing them with the GI status, increases the producer’s income, prevents misappropriation and retains the traditional knowledge and techniques and augments rural development.
Ever since GI has been granted to many handicrafts and textiles like Phulkari embroidery, Mysore silk, Mysore paintings, Tanjore art, Kashmiri pashminas, Channapatna toys, Muga silk, Kanjeevaram silks etc, these goods have not only become popular within India but also has a massive demand beyond the borders. The artisans and the country earn revenue through the export of these goods and also when the foreigners purchase these goods during their visits to India. This not only improved the foreign exchange for the country but also helped the destitute artisans arise from their misery and aided them with a better standard of living. Through these positive impacts of GI on the artisanal industry, it keeps them motivated to continue producing these artefacts and handicrafts to keep up the vibrant and rich traditions of the region.
What are the amendments that can be brought in the existing GI regime
It has been about 18 years since the GI was first implemented in India. However, despite all these years, there is an absence of a post-GI mechanism. The most essential activity after registration is the exercise of brand building. The authorities must take active steps in promoting the goods. This will attract new and more customers, thus benefiting the producers and uplifting their economic condition and aid them with a better quality of life. This not only helps the producers but also the economy of the country by improving the GDP, employment rate and tourism.
In India, unlike Europe and SouthEast Asia, there is no common logo for the GI products. Having a common logo will make the consumers aware of the uniqueness of the product and thus help in promoting the GI goods. Since the costs involved in brand building and promoting are enormous, the state must take responsibility as a facilitator, step in to help the producers with creating awareness about the GI goods, funds and strengthening the networks and linkages to assist them in selling their goods.
The existing GI regime must also come up with amicable and logical solutions when there is a conflict of interest with ambiguity in the regional demarcation. In recent years, we have seen this occur often with the conflict for the GI tag for the Rasgulla between Odisha and West Bengal.
To sum up, the handicrafts and artifacts significant to a particular region must be given GI tags to protect the originality of the product and protect the marginal class of artisans and secure their livelihood. GI, important to differentiate the handicrafts and artifacts according to their geographical origins, is essential in trade and benefits the country by contributing to the GDP and tourism.
- Importance of Geographical Indication for Conservation of Traditional Products- Rajiv Kangabam, Assam Agricultural University
- Geographical indications in India: Issues and challenges- An Overview, Soumya Vinayan
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