‘Basmati’ as Geographical Indication: SC directs Madras HC to reconsider petitions against over-inclusion in claimed ‘traditionally basmati cultivating areas’  

Supreme Court: The Bench of L. Nageswara Rao, B.R. Gavai and B.V. Nagarathna, JJ., addressed a matter with respect to registration of ‘Basmati’ as a Geographical Indication for basmati rice.

In the present matter, the Agricultural and Processed Food Products Export Development Authority (“APEDA”) filed an application before the Assistant Registrar of the Geographical Indications Registry, Chennai to register ‘Basmati’ as a Geographical Indication in Class 30 under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999.

In its application, APED claimed five States in their entirety (Delhi, Punjab, Haryana, Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh) and parts of two States (Uttar Pradesh and Jammu & Kashmir) as “traditionally Basmati cultivating areas” in India. The application was accepted and published by the GI Registry in the GI Journal inviting objections to the acceptance, if any, from third parties under the GI Act. The petitioners in instant special leave petitions raised oppositions on the ground that APEDA had failed to include 13 districts of the State of Madhya Pradesh in its GI application as Basmati growing areas. These oppositions were filed under Section 14 of the GI Act.

Petitioners also filed applications under Section 12 of the GI Act separately on the ground that demarcation of the claimed areas by APEDA in their GI application was vague, over broad, unscientific and contrary to the requirements of the GI Act. The Assistant Registrar held that APEDA failed to satisfy the fundamental requirement of clear, specific and reasoned demarcation of actual Basmati cultivating areas. APEDA was directed to identify the actual cultivated area and re-file the GI application for Basmati. In an appeal filed by APEDA, the Intellectual Property Appellate Board (“IPAB”) held that APEDA was entitled to get the GI tag for Basmati rice in respect of the areas and regions specified in the GI application. Thereafter, in 2016, GI registration certificate was issued by the Assistant Registrar to APEDA in respect of ‘Basmati’ under Class 30.

During the pendency of Writ Petitions 9564 and 5798 of 2016 filed before the High Court of Madras by the petitioners against the IPAB order, a consent order was passed wherein the High Court was of the opinion that over-inclusion of areas in the States forming part of the APEDA GI application needed to be considered in the said writ petitions.

By a subsequent order in those writ petitions, the High Court had directed the Assistant Registrar to commence and conclude proceedings relating to objections filed by the petitioners for inclusion of 13 districts of the State of M.P. Thereafter, the Assistant Registrar rejected the petitioners case for inclusion of the 13 districts of the State of M.P. for the purposes of grant of GI tag for Basmati. Challenging the order passed by the Assistant Registrar, the State of M.P. and the Madhya Kshetra Basmati Growers Association Samiti filed Writ Petitions 6857 and 7030 of 2018 which are pending consideration before the High Court of Madras.

The High Court disposed of and dismissed the earlier Writ Petitions 9564 and 5798 of 2016 vide judgment dated 27-2-2020 by directing the parties to raise all submissions in the subsequently filed pending Writ Petitions 6857 and 7030 of 2018. Aggrieved by High Court order, the instant special leave petition was filed by Madhya Kshetra Basmati Growers Association Samiti.

Analysis, Law and Decision

The Supreme Court was of the opinion that the High Court committed an error in not adjudicating the issue relating to over-inclusion of areas in the States forming part of the APEDA GI application.

As noted above, the High Court had passed a consent order during pendency of Writ Petitions 9564 and 5798 of 2016 wherein the High Court had made it clear that over-inclusion of the areas in other States of APEDA’s GI application would be considered in those very writ petitions. However, by the final impugned order passed on 27-2-2020, the High Court observed that the petitioners did not have any grievance relating to the over-inclusion of areas in the other States forming part of the GI application. On such finding, the High Court permitted the petitioners to raise all grounds in the subsequently filed pending Writ Petitions 6857 and 7030 of 2018. The Supreme Court held that:

“The [subsequently filed pending writ petitions] pertain to the validity of the order passed by the Assistant Registrar rejecting the contention of the petitioners for inclusion of 13 districts in the State of Madhya Pradesh for the purposes of the Basmati GI. The petitioners cannot raise the dispute pertaining to over-inclusion of areas in the other States in those pending writ petitions.”

Therefore, without expressing any opinion on the merits of the issues involved, the Supreme Court set aside the impugned decision of the High Court and remanded the matters back for fresh consideration.

Lastly, in view of the importance of these matters, the Supreme Court directed the High Court to dispose of the petitions expeditiously. [Madhya Kshetra Basmati Growers Association Samiti v. Intellectual Property Appellate Board, Chennai, Petition(s) for Special Leave to Appeal (C) No (s). 8461 of 2020, decided on 2-9-2021]


Advocates before the Court:

For the Petitioner (s):

Mr. Gopal Jha, AOR

Dr. Abhishek Manu Singhvi, Sr. Adv.

Mr. Mohit Goel, Adv

Mr. Sidhant Goel, Adv

Ms. Ruchira Gupta, Adv

Mr. Aditya Goel, Adv

Mr. Karmanya Dev Sharma, Adv

Mr. Anurag Sharma, Adv.

Ms. Akansha Sisodia, Adv

Mr. Shishir Deshpande, AOR

For the Respondent(s):

Mr. S. Guru Krishna Kumar, Sr. Adv.

Mr. M. A. Chinnasamy, AOR

Mr. Ashish Kumar Upadhyay, Adv.

Mr. Y. Lokesh, Adv.

Ms. V. Keerthana, Adv.

Ms. C. Rubavathi, Adv.

Mr. M. Veeraragavan, Adv.

Mr. Anubhav Chaturvedi, Adv.

Mr. Pankaj Agarwal, Adv.

Mr. Abhinav Mukerji, AOR

Ms. Pragati Neekhra, AOR

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