Hyderabad: The famous Tirupati laddu will soon get a geographical indication (GI) tag, making it arguably the first offering at a place of worship anywhere in the world to be recognized as an intellectual property (IP)—in this case, of the Tirumala Tirupati Devasthanams (TTD), a trust that manages the temple at Tirupati.
An expert panel appointed by the Registrar of Geographical Indications met at the temple last month to examine the merits of the application and has recommended granting the GI tag to the Tirupati laddu, two persons familiar with the developments said. Neither of them wanted to be named ahead of an announcement to the effect.
TTD had sought the GI tag for the laddu under the Geographical Indications of Goods (Registration and Protection) Act, 1999, after failing to curb sale of counterfeit versions by hawkers seeking to exploit the growing demand from visitors to the temple.
The GI status is granted to identify a product as having a specific provenance, and with a certain quality or reputation associated with that origin. Kashmir pashmina, Darjeeling tea and Kancheepuram silk have all been granted GIs.
This year has seen a rapid rise in the number of GI registrations. Between September 2003, when the Act came into effect, and April, 61 GIs were registered; since then 21 more have been registered. Of the total, 31 have been granted to handicrafts, 24 to textiles and textile products, six to horticultural and agricultural products, four to painting styles, and two each to tea and coffee.
Sweet prospects: A pair of Tirupati laddus. The GI status is granted to identify a product as having a specific provenance, and with a certain quality or reputation associated with that origin.
The laddu, made from flour, sugar, ghee (clarified butter), oil, cardamom and dry fruits is sought after by those visiting the temple located in the Chittoor district of Andhra Pradesh.
Archakas, or hereditary priests, in the temple’s kitchen prepare around 50 million laddus every year for around 25 million visitors to the temple. TTD distributes one laddu to each visitor free of charge and sells them at Rs5 apiece.
TTD, which approved an annual budget of Rs1,925 crore for 2008-09, had earmarked Rs60 crore for making laddus this fiscal year, while projecting a revenue of Rs40 crore from their sale. The temple trust is among the richest religious establishments in the country.
Hawkers in Tirupati have been selling fake laddus and after several futile attempts to curb this practice, including repeated raids by its security and vigilance wings, TTD finally decided to seek legal protection for its laddu. The GI Act imposes a penalty of Rs50,000 along with six months of imprisonment for people infringing a GI.
Claiming that its laddu is unique in quality and reputation, TTD submitted details to the GI registrar.
“Following the application filed by TTD seeking GI tag to its Tirupati laddu earlier this year, the consultative group of experts of Registrar of Geographical Indications headquartered at Chennai, comprising legal experts and scientists, visited the hill shrine in August to ascertain the claim of temple management on the uniqueness of its laddu. We are awaiting their decision on granting the GI tag,” TTD executive officer K.V. Ramanachary told Mint.
When contacted, V. Nageswara Rao, former head of the law department at Osmania University, who was a member of the consultative group that visited Tirupati, said the group had recommended the GI tag for the Tirupati laddu after detailed deliberations.
“The GI Registry will be shortly publishing these details in its journal and will seek objections, if any, before conferring the GI tag to the Tirupati laddu. In this case, my opinion is that there is no possibility of objections being raised since we do not have anybody other than TTD that makes Tirupati laddu...,” said Nageswara Rao.
He also pointed out that unlike other GI tags that allow a group of producers or a community to produce products using the name, the GI status given to TTD will allow only the trust to do so.
Although the Indian law doesn’t explicitly spell it out —unlike for instance, the comparable law for the European Community (ECR510 of 2006) —a GI tag has a dual objective. Apart from preventing the consumer from getting duped by fake products, it is geared to protecting producers’ rights of local communities, and enhancing the incomes of local artisans and farmers.
A June 2007 paper by Kasturi Das of the New Delhi-based Centre for Trade and Development explains the rationale for GIs: “Much like trademarks, GI acts as a signalling device that helps producers differentiate their products from competing products in the market, and enables them to build a reputation and goodwill around their products, which often fetch a premium price... Given its commercial potential, legal protection of GI assumes enormous significance. Without such protection, competitors not having legitimate right on a GI might ride free on its reputation.”
This year has seen several initiatives to sensitize local communities across the country about how GIs can secure them incomes and export markets. However, given the recent pace of grants by India, observers and experts have also lately been expressing concerns about a potential dilution of the standards for granting GIs in the country.
When contacted, Latha Nair, a legal expert specializing in GI, said: “GIs are collective community rights owned by a body of producers as opposed to private monopoly rights enjoyed by a natural or legal person like society or company. If the applicant in this case is a body that does not represent the interest of a group of producers of the laddus, (if there exists such a group) that are going to benefit out of the GI protection, then the application may be contrary to section 11 of the Act which stipulates so.” However, she added that unless she saw the application, she would not be able to comment on the specific case of the “Tirupati laddu”.
A lawyer based in Hyderabad, who requested anonymity, said that if a trust gets the benefit, instead of a group of producers or the community in the geographical location, it may defeat the purpose of the GI Act.
According to him, the laddu originating from Tirupati is not inherently superior or unique to those originating in other parts of the country or the world. “I do not think that the characteristics of Tirupati laddu have any association with geography. The process of production is not unique to the given geographical area and there is no contribution of the geographical location or any of its constituents and ingredients,” the lawyer said.
Refuting this argument, Nageswara Rao said, “The GI tag sought by TTD is for the prasadam (offering) to Lord Venkateshwara that has unique characteristic in itself and also has association with the geography—Tirupati.”
In a 1 September article in The Financial Express, Nair had described GIs as “the poor man’s IP in India because most of the stakeholders of GIs are farmers, artisans and craftsmen belonging to the lower economic strata and, ideally, the benefits of GI registrations must trickle down to them”.