Attorney Sanjai Gandhi on the need to go in for a Geographical Indication certificate, and how it protects both manufacturers and consumers.
All of a sudden, everyone is talking Kancheepuram silk! And, the man responsible for that is Geographical Indication (GI) attorney P. Sanjai Gandhi, who has helped as many as nine products unique to the State's many regions get GI certification, and is in the process of registering them so that the interests of both the manufacturers and consumers are protected.
By helping 21 cooperative societies and 10 individuals get registered for Kancheepuram silk under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act 1999, he has ensured quality control and that Kancheepuram's unique identity is not used by those not conforming to the parameters.
He's convinced the Act will be implemented in letter and spirit, as the registered proprietors (Department of Handlooms and Textiles) have taken it up. So far, 18 products from Tamil Nadu have got the GI mark, and he has been the man behind Bhavani jamakkalam, Madurai chungudi, Salem venpatu, Arni silk, Kovai kora cotton, Kancheepuram silk, Tanjore painting, Tanjore dancing dolls, and Eathamozhitallcoconut. The tenth one, for the unique Pathamadai paai is expected shortly.
He is working on more GIs for products such as the Tanjore veenai, Mamallapuram sculptures, Nachiarkovil kuthuvikakku and Tirunelveli halwa.
He has a shot in the arm now, with the Tamil Nadu State Council for Science and Technology joining him for his future endeavours.
“It is vital to maintain territorial right. There are certain qualities and characteristics unique to a place, and that must not be allowed to go waste. And, we live in a country that is blessed with so much. It is only here that we have so many categories for GI certification — natural products, handicrafts / handlooms, horticulture / agriculture, manufacturing. Protecting what is ours is our duty,” says this Intellectual Property Rights activist.
In fact, Kancheepuram silk was the sixth product in India to get a GI. That happened in 2005, after Sanjai approached the authorities concerned. Now, only authorised users, under Sec 17 (B) of the Act, can claim that their product is Kancheepuram silk. More people can register themselves, provided they maintain the special quality of the weave, procedure and territorial rights. This ensures false representation is done away with. Also, such registration will protect a product in foreign countries, under the WTO's Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) agreement.
So, if GI certification is so good, why aren't more people applying for it? “Because, they still don't know how it will protect them. Or, how, with this, we can ensure that someone else will never be able to take credit for what is legitimately ours. For instance, we fought with Malaysia over the patent it gave Ponni rice, and won the case too.”
Why such interest in GI and IPR? Says the 36-year-old attorney, a sworn Gandhian: “I've lived by Gandhiji's principles and wanted to bring our products to the limelight and draw global attention to their wonderful properties. And, this helps the cause of rural development economics too. This too is some kind of patriotism, right?”
And, where does Sanjai see the crusade for GI going? “I would like the Government to allocate more funds to agencies involved in applying for this certification. The budget allocation should increase too.” And, he hopes manufacturers exercise their right and protect those of the consumers by mentioning that a product is GI registered. “Weave it into the sari; emboss it on artefacts. Just keep the word going,” says Sanjai.